DENVER – The signs are increasing that Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene might play in this series, but his coach will not yet sign off on putting him in the lineup.
Duchene, the team’s leading scorer during the regular season, took part in his first team practice at Saturday’s morning skate but Patrick Roy reiterated afterward he would not play in Game 5 against the Wild.
“It was his first day skating with the team,” Roy said Saturday morning. “We’ll see after how was it and I’ll tell you more [Sunday].”
It was basically the same message Roy delivered Friday, but the fact that Duchene was skating with his teammates is a new development. Saturday marks four weeks to the day since Duchene sprained the MCL in his left knee in a collision with teammate Jamie McGinn. At the time the team said he would miss 4-6 weeks, and he appears to be progressing on the front end of the projected time frame.
That was good news for a team that struggled offensively against the Wild in Games 3 and 4.
“He’s a top-flight scorer that brings a lot of offensive skills,” captain Gabe Landeskog said. “The confidence it will bring our offense that’s the main thing. The way he can hold onto the puck, protect the puck is something we need. We’ve missed him.”
Per team policy regarding injured players, Duchene was not made available after the morning skate.
At the start of the series Roy said Duchene — who had 23 goals and a team-best 47 assists in the regular season — was likely to miss the first round, but he has since softened his stance on the center’s availability.
Taking part in the morning skate was a positive sign for his teammates.
“Everybody’s very happy for him. Hopefully we’ll get him back pretty soon,” rookie center Nathan MacKinnon said. “In the playoffs you don’t get too many extra boosts. Knowing we’ll get him back soon and he won’t be out the rest of the year is a boost. He’s been skating on his own but it’s always nice to have one of our best players wearing the same colored jersey as us and participating in everything.”
The loss of defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3 added to the Avalanche’s offensive woes. Barrie is the team’s best offensive blue line player and Colorado had a tough time generating scoring chances and shots on rookie goaltender Darcy Kuemper at Xcel Energy Arena.
Getting Duchene back at some point would help strengthen Colorado’s top two lines.
“He’s been a big part of what we’ve been doing,” forward P.A. Parenteau said. “It’s nice to see him out there. It can only give us a boost.”
Duchene’s return — whenever it happens — might not make a difference on Colorado’s power play. He played in all five regular-season games against the Wild and the Avalanche was 0-for-11 on with the man advantage. In this series Colorado has not been able to develop any flow on the power play, going 1-for-15 through the first four games.
Even if Duchene’s presence doesn’t improve the power play, having the team’s top scorer back would make a difference overall.
“Certainly when guys are getting better, with all the injuries we’ve had, when guys are starting to get back into the lineup it brings a little more energy to the lineup and a little more energy around the room and the rink,” Landeskog said.