Nathan MacKinnon (center) and Matt Duchene (right) (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Avalanche will be without Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon for two games this week, including an incredibly important Saturday night matchup against the Wild. Without their two leading scorers, Colorado’s post-season hopes could be in serious trouble.
Patrick Roy’s Avalanche have been able to buck the advanced stats implications and battle their way into a post-season position thanks to a run-and-gun, high tempo style, but two major losses on offense could have Colorado in a bind for a crucial game against the Minnesota Wild and beyond.
The Avalanche announced Tuesday that Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene, Colorado’s two leading scorers, will both be out of the lineup for the two remaining contests this week. That includes Saturday’s game against the Wild, a game which could be the most important tilt the Avalanche play all season.
As of Tuesday, Colorado is currently one point ahead of Minnesota for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Saturday’s game could change the entire outlook of the season for the Avalanche, especially if the Wild can catch or surpass Roy’s club before the Saturday contest. Being without MacKinnon and Duchene makes things even more difficult for Colorado, but the outlook beyond the game against Minnesota may be even more worrisome.
When Roy addressed media, he gave only specifics about the remainder of this week and wouldn’t offer up any further information about MacKinnon and Duchene. Roy said he would offer update the status of his two leading scorers Sunday, but for now, the team would have to take it week-to-week.
“As we speak, they are not going to skate [this week],” Roy said. “We will see how it goes over the weekend and from there we will give you more.”
If MacKinnon and Duchene are out for the remainder of the season, one has to wonder how, exactly, the Avalanche are going to be able to fight off the Wild for the final playoff spot. Even with Colorado on a three-game winning streak, only one of those victories — Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers — came with neither MacKinnon nor Duchene in the lineup. Both played in Colorado’s 3-1 win over Vancouver and MacKinnon notched an assist in the 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames.
On a single game basis, anything can happen and the Avalanche going on a run without two of their stars isn’t out of the question, but the losses of MacKinnon and Duchene will have an impact beyond just Colorado’s inability to score.
Remember those pesky possession stats? The Avalanche sit 30th in the NHL with a shot attempts for percentage of 44.1 percent at 5-on-5, the worst mark in the league by 2.5 percent. Now imagine how Colorado will fare without MacKinnon and Duchene, who have been two of the Avalanche’s best possession players. Again, anything can happen in a single game, but taking on a Philadelphia Flyers team that has been outstanding over the past month and a Wild team fighting for their playoff lives isn’t an easy set of games to be without MacKinnon and Duchene for.
The one thing that does bode well for Colorado, though, is that trade deadline acquisitions Shawn Matthias and Mikkel Boedker have so far paid dividends. Matthias has three goals and seven points in 11 games since coming over, and Boedker has identical numbers in two fewer games. They’re no MacKinnon and Duchene — who are the only Avs with 20 goals this season, it should be noted — but the strengthened depth of the Avalanche could help soften the blow of losing the two top scorers for at least a short period of time. But the Avalanche can ill afford to give up points from here on out.
Over the next nine games, Colorado will be controlling their own fate. A loss to Minnesota doesn’t mean Colorado is done for, but it could very well be the difference between making the post-season and an early off-season. And considering strength of schedule, there may not be a worse run of games in the Avalanche’s campaign for MacKinnon and Duchene to be sidelined for. Before the season is up, Colorado will take on the Flyers, Wild, Capitals, Stars, Ducks and both the Predators and Blues twice. Compare that to Minnesota, who will play non-playoff teams four times in their final nine games, and the losses of MacKinnon and Duchene are an even bigger blow.
Roy hasn’t ruled out a return for either MacKinnon or Duchene by next week, but the clock is ticking. And if they can’t make it back in the lineup, the Avalanche are going to be facing an uphill battle to return to the playoffs after missing out last season.