Matt Duchene was selected third overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and ever since has become one of the top players in the NHL, made evident Tuesday morning when he was chosen for Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey team for next month’s Games in Sochi, Russia.
Only two players’ names were called before Duchene’s in that 2009 draft, and one of them, top-overall selection John Tavares, will be on the opposite side tonight when the Avalanche (27-12-4) takes on the New York Islanders (16-22-7) at Pepsi Center.
Duchene has 98 goals in 306 games—he will become the 20th player in franchise history and ninth in Avalanche history to reach 100 career goals—and Tavares has 132 career scores in 335 games.
The two have been friends since their inclusion in the NHL, and their careers have often been compared. Their individual play tonight figures to be a key factor in which of their teams leaves town with a victory.
The Avalanche flies to Minneapolis afterward and will play the Wild tomorrow night.
“You look at the other top-line center on the other team, and you’re always trying to outplay them,” Duchene said. “You know if that happens your team is going to have a better chance of winning, which is the most important thing.”
Duchene leads the Avalanche in goals (16) assists (22-tied), points (38) and shots (129) and is having a resurgent season in Colorado. He tied an Avalanche record with nine goals in October, tallied a career-high 12 assists in December and recorded four straight multipoint games from Dec. 16 to 21.
Tavares is the 14th captain in Islanders history and has points in six straight games, including eight points (three goals, five assists) in his past two games.
“Below the hash marks I don’t know if there’s a better guy in the league,” Duchene said of Tavares. “He’s one of those guys who just knows how to produce. He’s one of those guys who can hang out in the weeds, and you don’t really see him, and then he’s got three assists or a goal and two assists at the end of the night. He’s really sneaky like that. He’s so good around the net. He’s just one of those guys who’s just going to produce points no matter where he’s playing.
“I watch guys like him and other guys throughout the league and try to pick up little things. He’s just a heck of a player having a great year.”
The Duchene-Tavares matchup will be one to watch tonight, but both of their teams are playing well lately, too. The Avalanche and Islanders are each 4-1 in their past five games.
New York is playing its second of a six-game road trip and is 7-0-3 vs. the Avalanche since 2001.
Colorado is finishing off a season-long, seven-game homestand that has seen it already gain nine of a possible 12 points since a Dec. 29 home game against Winnipeg (overtime loss). Important Central Division road games await tomorrow and Tuesday night in Chicago, so the Avs would love nothing more than to finish this long Denver stretch with another victory.
The play tonight of Tavares and Duchene will be a good “Who’s going to win?” barometer, but the Avs are playing fantastic team hockey in the past month, with just three regulation losses since Dec. 12.
“I think we’ve done a good job this homestand to grab momentum,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “We said before [this homestand] that this was a great opportunity to make a stand, to make a push, and I think we’ve done a good job of that so far, but we absolutely want to finish off strong, and we have an opportunity to do that tonight.”
Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie has three points (one goal, two assists) in Colorado’s past two games and scored the overtime game winner Wednesday night in the Avs’ 4-3 come-from-behind victory against Ottawa.
He has 11 points this season (three goals, eight assists), but Barrie was struggling to crack the lineup last week. He was a healthy scratch on Jan. 2 vs. Philadelphia and Jan. 4 against San Jose
His goal and assist vs. the Senators, though, was an eye opener and personified some of the hope the Avalanche had for him when it selected him in the third round of the same 2009 draft it plucked Duchene.
“The last five minutes [vs. Ottawa] I thought, ‘That’s the guy that we want,’” Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said. “He’s not a 6-[foot]-tall defenseman, so he needs to bring something different to the team, and what he could bring is some offense. He’s a great skater, he has great hands, and he has a great shot. He needs to be part of our offense.
“Last game against Ottawa he was in the rush, he was moving the puck well. But the key for that type of player is the quality of their decisions. If Tyson makes good decision, then he will help us … It’s a job of getting in the offense but making good decisions, and that’s the task he has night after night.”
- Ryan O’Reilly (shoulder) is likely out tonight vs. the Isles. He took part in some on-ice drills this morning and will be evaluated tomorrow in Minnesota. He could play against the Wild, Roy said.
“The objective was seeing how he reacts [Saturday] morning after doing some drills with contact,” he said.
- The Avs wrap up their season-long, seven-game homestand tonight. Colorado is 4-1-1 so far and with a victory tonight would finish with its best homestand of at least seven games in franchise history (5-1-1, .786%).
- This is the Avs’ fifth of 10 back-to-backs this season. They’re 3-1-0 in the first games and 3-1-0 in the second through the first four.
- Nathan MacKinnon has six goals and seven points in the Avalanche’s past six games and leads all NHL rookies in overall scoring with 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists).
He also leads all rookies in power-play goals (seven) and shots (124), is second in goals and game-winning goals (four) and third in assists. His seven PPGs are the most by an Avalanche rookie since Matt Duchene had 10 in 2009-10.
“He’s been outstanding,” Roy said. “He’s a powerful skater; he has great hands. He got a puck on the ankle [vs. Calgary, Monday] and didn’t think twice about playing the last game [vs. Ottawa]. A lot of guys could have missed that game easily.
"We’re very proud of him. Last game he played really well with Matt Duchene. They both really play really together, and they had a lot of chances. We’re very happy with him.”
- The Avs are 11-3-0 against Eastern Conference teams this year and 6-2-0 against them at home. Colorado is 24-7-1 against Eastern Conference opponents since the start of the 2011-12 season, 44-17-7 since 2009-10 and 72-37-7 since 2005-06.
- Left winger Jamie McGinn needs one point to reach 100 career points.
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