Denver Post writer Adrian Dater reported yesterday that third year center Matt Duchene is still out indefinitely with a knee injury. This is not the news the Avalanche were hoping for heading into the stretch run out of the All-Star break. The Avalanche’s 26-23-2 record is good for 54 points and ninth place in the Western Conference.
The Avalanche have 31 games remaining in their season, at least one fewer than everyone else in Western Conference. To secure a playoff spot, they probably need to win over 20 of those games. That is going to be extremely difficult without Matt Duchene.
The bright spots for the Avalanche must continue to perform. Even more emphasis is going to be put on the talents of breakout center Ryan O’Reilly, rookie Gabriel Landeskog and Peter Mueller who recently returned to the line up. T.J. Galiardi playing at the top of his game could also be a huge asset to the club.
The underachievers on the team are going to have to step up. Paul Statsny leads the team in salary, but has not played great the last two seasons. With Matt Duchene out for the foreseeable future, he needs to start scoring again. Milan Hejduk’s slump is also worrying for the club. If does not reach the 20 goal mark, will this be the Czech’s last year in the NHL?
On the defensive side, everyone needs to step up. Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson lead this list. However, the defense has committed too many costly turnovers overall leaving the goalies out to dry.
Speaking of goalies, Semyon Varlamov will start in net tonight against Edmonton. He was demoted to the back up role, but after Giguere’s two losses he appears to be back in the mix. I think Giguere gives the team the best chance to win down the stretch, but he still should not play too many games and tire himself out.
So will the Avs prevail? Only if everyone on the team steps up and most likely only if Matt Duchene is not out of the line up too much longer. If they are out of the playoffs, it’s a sign that this team has not taken big enough steps in the right direction.