Duchene back at his natural position
Avalanche star loves being returned to center
After playing right wing for significant stretches this season, Matt Duchene is back at center.
The Avalanche’s leading goal scorer — he had his 11th and 12th of the season Wednesday in the loss to Philadelphia — doesn’t mind the move.
“I love it,” Duchene said Thursday. “It’s my natural position. I enjoy playing right wing, depending on the situation, but at center it’s consistent. I always feel in the game. I like having that responsibility defensively that you have more as a centerman than as a winger.”
When the Avalanche attempts to snap its home-ice losing streak at six games Friday against the Florida Panthers, Duchene will center Mikhail Grigorenko and Mikko Rantanen for the third consecutive game.
That follows winger Gabe Landeskog’s return from a 10game absence with a lower-body injury. At least for the time being, having Duchene on the right side with Landeskog and center Nathan MacKinnon in an attempt to load up a top line, or having Duchene on the right side with anyone, are discarded strategies. Rene Bourque is playing right wing with MacKinnon and Landeskog.
“I never played wing until last year,” said Duchene, who finished 2015-16 with a career-high 30 goals. “Last year, it worked a little bit, but I also finished at center. Last year, I was playing a lot of center, and I was with Grigorenko and (Jarome) Iginla. I played probably the last 25 or 30 games at center last year.
“I’ve always played real well with Grigo. He’s a guy who has the ability to be a star in this league. I think he’s still finding his way as an elite player, a top-six guy. The good thing about him is he wants to do it. And Mikko, I think this is an upcoming star. He and I read each other really well. He knows what he wants to do with the puck before it gets to him and that’s a rare quality.”
Grigorenko, 22, also is a natural center, and until Rantanen, now 20, suffered an ankle injury during rookie camp, the Avs were taking a look at him at center.
“Even when I was playing right wing, I was kind of a hybrid of a winger and a center,” Duchene said. “I’d come down low a lot, deep into the zone, and I’d take some draws. With these guys, it’s no different. They have centerman qualities. If you go back to the year we won the division (2013-14), when (Ryan) O’Reilly and I were playing together, he was a natural centerman playing on the wing and we basically shared the role. It’s a shared responsibility sometimes and I think that makes everybody better, everybody more engaged in
FLORIDA AT COLORADO Spotlight on Panthers RW Jaromir Jagr: NOTEBOOK Panthers:
Winning the Atlantic Division with 47 victories and 103 points, the Panthers were one of the upbeat stories last season but have regressed in 2016-17. … Since the Panthers surprisingly fired coach Gerard Gallant after a loss at Carolina and Gallant was seen (and pictured) trying to hail a cab after getting the news, Florida was 2-3-3 heading into the Winnipeg game. General manager Tom Rowe has added coaching to his duties.
Semyon Varlamov, who came out of his 51-save game at Toronto on Sunday with a groin muscle issue, didn’t practice Thursday, and Calvin Pickard again will get the start in goal, with Spencer Martin backing him up. But Varlamov went on the ice on his own after practice in full gear, testing the injury. … Avalanche coach Jared Bednar labeled Varlamov “day by day” and added, “We’ll see how he feels and then hopefully at some point here he can start taking some shots.” … Defenseman Francois Beauchemin also didn’t practice. Bednar said Beauchemin “got banged up” in Wednesday’s loss to Philadelphia but probably would be able to play against the Panthers. … Center Joe Colborne remained off the ice Thursday with a lowerbody injury and won’t be available. … Colorado hasn’t won a home game since a 4-1 rout of Los Angeles on Nov. 15.
7 p.m. Friday, ALT; 950 AM
This will be a matchup of the top two active career goal scorers in the NHL — Jagr, who had 755 going into the Panthers’ Thursday night game at Winnipeg, and the Avalanche’s Jarome Iginla, with 614. Also, with 1,883 points, Jagr was within four of catching Mark Messier, who is second on the all-time NHL list with 1,887. (Wayne Gretzky has 2,857.) Jagr will turn 45 in February. the game.”
Rantanen, the Avalanche’s firstround draft choice in 2015, has four goals and nine assists in 23 games.
“We’re just two games together, and we’re trying to build some chemistry,” Rantanen said. “After every practice, we feel more comfortable. It’s getting better and better.”
Grigorenko, who came to Colorado in the trade that sent O’Reilly to Buffalo in June 2015, has struggled to score with the Avs. Grigorenko had six goals last season and has three goals and seven assists this season.
“It’s a great opportunity, especially for me,” he said of the line. “We all play a similar style, like to control the puck and pass and make plays. I think we have some chemistry going and hopefully we can produce a little bit more the next few games and stick together as a line. It would be good personally for me and good for the team if I would be able to produce the way I’d like to.”
Of course, with the Avalanche searching for something — anything — to get this team out of its funk and shed the ignominy of having the fewest points in the NHL, it’s probably wise to write down the line combinations in pencil only … and have an eraser handy.
Matt Duchene, right, is congratulated by Nikita Zadorov on Wednesday after scoring a goal.