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?