Matt Duchene is back on the ice for the sinking Colorado Avalanche and willing to lend a helping hand – even if it’s injured.
The team’s leading scorer can hold a hockey stick again, more than enough progress for the All-Star forward to pronounce himself fit for a return Tuesday night in St. Louis.
Duchene sat out two games after hurting his left hand in a 9-1 loss to Calgary last week. He’s eager to climb back into the lineup, especially with the team mired in a 10-game skid, the longest winless streak since the franchise moved to the Mile High City before the 1995-96 season.
”Sometimes in this league, when it rains it pours,” Duchene said after practice Monday. ”Half of them we played pretty good hockey and could’ve won the games. It’s disappointing.
”It’s hard to be detached from (the team) and have to sit in the background and watch it. But it’s good to be back.”
The Avalanche have tried everything to slip out of a slump that began shortly after Peter Forsberg joined the squad to test out his chronically injured foot and continued once the former NHL MVP ended his comeback bid after just two games.
Benching players hasn’t worked. Neither has shifting around the lines or calling up minor leaguers.
So Colorado turned to an even more drastic solution – shaking up its roster by pulling off two big trades late last week.
First, Colorado swapped one scuffling goaltender for another, picking up Brian Elliott from the Ottawa Senators for Craig Anderson. Then, the Avalanche acquired defenseman Erik Johnson, the top pick in the 2006 draft, and Jay McClement from the St. Louis Blues for rising youngsters Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk.
Anderson was dazzling in his debut with the Senators on Saturday, lifting them to a 1-0 shootout win over Toronto. Stewart made quite an impression with his new squad as well, scoring twice as the Blues beat Anaheim on Saturday.
The results haven’t been that quick and forthcoming for Colorado.
Elliott has yet to join the team as he sorts through immigration issues, while Johnson and McClement were solid for Colorado at San Jose, but the results were far too familiar with another loss.
”We have to find a way to get a win. When we do that, I really believe that we’ll put some wins together and put a streak together,” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. ”Right now, it’s a matter of finding that first win.”
Colorado was originally scheduled to be off until hosting last place Edmonton on Wednesday. But thanks to severe weather earlier this month, the Avs had their game at St. Louis postponed and moved to Tuesday.
Now Johnson and McClement get to face their old teammates just days after leaving them. This will also be a chance to tie up loose ends, such as packing more clothes and saying final farewells to friends.
All things Johnson and McClement didn’t have time for after their hasty, late-night departure following the trade.
”It’s going to be weird coming into your old rink, on the other side of the barn – seeing your old trainers, and coaches, teammates,” Johnson said. ”But I think it’s going to be fun more than anything.”
On Sunday, the 22-year-old Johnson took a quick tour of his new city, stopping long enough to gaze into the distant mountains as he contemplated what exactly transpired in a trade that caught him completely off guard.
”The peaceful energy around here helps out,” Johnson said with a grin.
So did a chat with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, who reassured the rugged defenseman it was nothing personal.
”He said, ‘This is a thing where you have to give up something of great quality to get something of great quality. This is no reflection of what we saw in you as a person or a player,”’ Johnson recounted. ”I totally understand.”
Instead of landing with a contender, Johnson bounces from one struggling squad to another.
Not that long ago, Colorado was near the top of the standings and boasted one of the highest-scoring teams in the league.
The recent skid has knocked the Avs into the bottom of the Western Conference. What’s more, their vaunted offensive attack has been bottled up.
”We have to find a way to generate some offense, without sacrificing defense at the same time,” said Sacco, whose squad is 0-23-3 this season when scoring two goals or fewer.
As for how trying this injury-plagued season has been on him, Sacco simply shrugged.
”These are the things you’re going to have to deal with during the course of your career,” Sacco said. ”You sign up for this when you take on a coaching job.”