The Colorado Avalanche suffered a tough 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues Sunday night that put their playoff hopes further in jeopardy. Had the Minnesota Wild beaten the Winnipeg Jets, the Avs would be eliminated officially, but their pals in Winnipeg offered a helping hand.
Despite their playoff dreams not being dashed, that did little to appease head coach Patrick Roy. He was more focused on the actions of one of his star players late in the game.
The third-year head coach and Hockey Hall of Famer as a player was critical of Matt Duchene, who scored the team’s only goal in the loss. More directly, Roy was unhappy that the forward celebrated a little too exuberantly.
Here's Duchene's goal and celebration:
Now here is Roy's comments on Duchene's exuberant celebration:
“The thing I have a bit of a hard time [with] is the reaction of Dutchy after he scored,” Roy said. “It’s a 4-0 goal. Big cheer. Are you kidding me? What is that? I mean, it’s not the reflect we want from our guys, not at all.”
So, this needs a little extra context. Roy is right. It was a goal that cut the deficit to 4-1 in a game that was extremely important to the Avs. However, when it was scored, there was still over four minutes remaining in the game. A comeback, while unlikely, is still possible. It has to start somewhere, right?
Secondly, that was Duchene’s 30th goal of the season. He had never hit that milestone in his career as his previous career high was 27 in 2010-11. In today's NHL, scoring 30 is a pretty big deal.
Thirdly, that was the 25-year-old forward’s first goal since March 12. He missed multiple games with a knee injury and was unable to help the team in some of their most dire moments. Given the situation and the fact the team still has some slim hopes, it was probably an important goal for Duchene on a number of levels.
In losses like that, it’s hard to find anything positive. Duchene achieving a milestone, putting the team back into position to at least attempt a comeback and getting back on the score sheet for the first time since suffering an injury are all good things.
Instead, it was turned into a huge negative because he celebrated too exuberantly. Roy was lamenting that the team did not have a winning culture and attitude, using Duchene’s celebration in a game that may have been a lost cause as an example.
Now that we’re at Game 79 of the season for Colorado, shouldn’t that winning attitude and culture have been established long ago by the four-time Stanley Cup winning goalie?
To be fair, I get what Roy is saying. He wants to see his players pull their bootstraps up and go right back to work. Teams that are focused only on winning won't be satisfied with a single goal in that situation. Still, given everything else that surrounded that goal for Duchene in particular, why single him out?
But it wasn't just Duchene that Roy threw under the bus. He continued to pile on his core players after ripping Duchene.
"These [core] guys need to prove to us that they’re capable of carrying this team," Roy said. "When Washington needs a goal, they turn to Ovechkin. When to teams, when Pittsburgh needs a goal, they turn to Crosby. Our core players are having a hard time to carry this team. That’s the bottom line.”
Well, with all due respect to Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, none of them are at the level where they can go the Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby route and just impose their will on the ice. They’re still pretty good players, but they’re not the kind of guys that are going to score on command. In fact, no one is, not even Ovechkin or Crosby. This league is too good for that. The key for the Avs in particular is to have a team built around them that makes it so they don’t have to do that every single time like they do now.
There was a moment after the game where Roy very nearly put some of the blame on himself, but then turned it back to the core.
“I could look at myself in the mirror, we all can look in the mirror,” Roy said. “But at the end of the day, our core has to be our best players.”
Maybe they weren’t the team’s best players Sunday night, but they have been pretty much all season. The core is the reason the Avs are even in the playoff race at all right now.
Duchene leads the team with 57 points this year and has nine more goals than any other player on the team. MacKinnon is second with 52. Tyson Barrie is closing in on 50 points from the blue line. Landeskog, the captain, has 20 goals and 51 points. Colorado’s best players have been their best players, for the most part.
Meanwhile, the Avalanche have consistently been one of the worst, if not the worst possession team in the NHL since Roy took over. According to war-on-ice.com, the Avalanche have a Corsi for of 44.6 percent since the 2013-14 season. Only the Buffalo Sabres, who were essentially tanking for two full seasons over that same span, had worse possession numbers.
Part of that is on the players, part of that is on the coach and part of it is on management. This team has lacked depth for a while now and the longer they struggle to build around Duchene, MacKinnon, Barrie, Semyon Varlamov and Landeskog among others, the harder things will be for them in the long term.