Matt Duchene

Is Matt Duchene in Joe Sacco’s doghouse?

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This has been a trying season for the relationship between Joe Sacco and Matt Duchene.

Back in October, Sacco dropped Duchene to the fourth line, docking his minutes in the process. Duchene then went on to miss 20 games with a knee injury and another four with an ankle issue.

Things have been up and down for the 21-year-old since returning, with a major down point occurring in Thursday’s loss in Phoenix. Sacco benched him for almost the entire third period; Duchene finished with 7:21 and a minus-two rating.

While neither wanted to discuss the Phoenix incident — Sacco said Duchene was “having a tough go at it,” while Duchene declined comment — it seemed to carry over to Saturday’s game against the Canucks. With the Avalanche in a dogfight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, Sacco played Duchene all of 14:57, including just 3:34 in the first period.

It was a curious distribution of ice time, especially since Colorado was going with a shortened bench. Three forwards — Jay McClement, Chuck Kobasew and Cody McLeod — each played less than 10 minutes, meaning there was plenty of ice time for the remaining forwards. Yet Duchene, who led the Avs in scoring last year, saw less than the likes of Jamie McGinn and David Jones and essentially had the same even strength ice time as Mark Olver, who joined the Avs in February.

So, what gives?

Consider what Sacco said following the Coyotes game:

“The most important thing is, when you’re in the midst of the game, is putting the people out there you think give you the best chance to win. So that’s what we did. We ended up making a pretty good game of it, scoring two goals in the third (and) we had some opportunities to tie it up late in the game.”

That philosophy carried over to Vancouver, where he loaded up guys like Gabriel Landeskog (22:24), Ryan O’Reilly (22:55) and Matt Hunwick (21:37).  So Sacco’s going to play the guys he thinks will get him victories…but what does it say for Duchene that he’s not one of those guys?

Video: Chris Kreider doesn’t just fight Cody Eakin, he hits him with his helmet

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Tuesday’s Dallas Stars – New York Rangers almost seemed destined to be a wild affair, and so far, the two teams aren’t disappointing.

For one thing, Chris Kreider and the Rangers were open about “not forgetting” Cody Eakin‘s hit on Henrik Lundqvist, something Eakin realized heading in. The Stars had their own irritations coming into this game, as they clearly weren’t happy with their loss to the Buffalo Sabres and their shaky play overall.

So, yeah, plenty of reason for this to be a rowdy affair.

Kreider is delivering in particular, with the most memorable moment being his strange fight with Eakin, which you can see above. SBNation’s Pat Iversen points out that Kreider probably should have been ejected for hitting Eakin with a piece of his equipment, a violation of Rule 53.

As many know, Kreider has even more of a reputation for “interacting” with goalies, as he did once again with Antti Niemi:

The Stars currently lead the game 5-3, so it’s been a busy one on the scoreboard, too.

Video: Maple Leafs lose Morgan Rielly after fall into boards

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Down 2-0 to the Buffalo Sabres, the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a shaky start on Tuesday. Still, their concerns likely revolve the most around the health of defenseman Morgan Rielly.

As you can see from the video above, the young Buds blueliner was shaken up by an awkward spill into the boards.

It’s too early to know if he avoided injury or might miss some time, but there’s at least some concern that he might have aggravated an issue from before his NHL days:

We’ll need to wait and see, but with his offensive skills and overall importance in mind (average just under 23 minutes a game this season, more or less in line with his breakthrough year in 2015-16), the Maple Leafs are crossing their fingers that this isn’t anything major.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 23:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck as he turns against Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on December 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Avalanche defeated the Blackhawks 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks need to put a tough weekend behind them; maybe the Colorado Avalanche are just what the doctor ordered.

Colorado is clearly ranked last in the league, whether they believe they have some assets in the likes of Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog or not. Perhaps there will be a few scouts on hand to see how such potential Avs trade targets perform against a contending team?

It’s rarely a dull night when the Blackhawks roll out talented players like Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Toews – among others – so it should be a good time on NBCSN on Tuesday.

You can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Short-lived return? No Tyler Ennis for Sabres tonight

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 25:  Tyler Ennis #63 of the Buffalo Sabres takes a shot on goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period at Wells Fargo Center on October 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Tyler Ennis‘ return to the Buffalo Sabres lineup on Monday after a 30-game absence seemed like a breath of fresh air. Tuesday, then, represents letting the air out of the balloon.

The Sabres announced that Ennis wasn’t out for warm-ups heading into tonight’s Sabres – Toronto Maple Leafs game. It certainly gives the impression that his groin injury isn’t fully healed.

Ennis contributed a goal to Buffalo’s 4-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Monday and nearly scored another in “lacrosse” style:

When healthy, he’s been a 20-goal, 40+ point player for Buffalo lately, so he was missed. The team tweeted out Ryan O'Reilly‘s comments about Ennis’ return mere hours ago, so you get the impression that it was a surprise for many:

Maybe it’s just a minor setback?

Update: The Sabres deem it a “precautionary scratch,” according to John Vogl of the Buffalo News. So maybe file this under minor setback. We’ll see.