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MacKinnon Moves Up to Duchene's Spot in Lineup

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Matt Duchene is the latest Avalanche forward that will miss significant time this season because of an injury, but the injury bug hasn't slowed the team yet and the Colorado players said they aren't expecting it to.

"We have done it all year," Avs alternate captain Paul Stastny said of the team battling through injuries. "Every time that's happened I don't think it has slowed us down. We have kept playing our game, and we didn't use it as an excuse."

The Avs have lost forwards Alex Tanguay (57 games, knee), PA Parenteau (19 games, knee), Stastny (11 games, back, leg, ankle) and John Mitchell (five games, back) throughout the year, but the club has continued its consistent play and winning ways. With seven games left in the season, Colorado sits second in the Central Division with 100 points and a 47-21-6 record.

"All year guys have stepped up and have done a great job," forward Jamie McGinn said. "We've dealt with it a lot, a lot of injuries this year, but we just stay positive and keep working hard and good things have happened."

Duchene suffered a knee injury in the first minute of the Avs' 3-2 win on Saturday over the San Jose Sharks, and the club announced Monday morning that he will be out of the lineup for roughly four weeks.

The Avalanche center has career highs this season in points (70), assists (47), shots (217) and game-winning goals (six-tied). He is tied for third on the club in goals with 23, four off his career-best 27 in 2010-11.

Championship-caliber teams are built around just that, the team, and that team mindset helped the Avs win the 2001 Stanley Cup. Peter Forsberg hurt his spleen that year in the Western Conference Semifinals and missed the rest of the postseason, but the squad continued to work hard and went on to win the franchise's second championship.

Head coach Patrick Roy said he sees a lot of that 2001 club in the 2014 version.

"When we're talking about changing the culture of our team, this is one thing, we're a team. That is the way it was in 2001, it was about the team," Roy said. "Peter was a very important player on that team, don't get be wrong here, but our culture was we had to work hard every time we were on the ice. We had to find ways to win hockey games, and this is what this team has been doing all year.

"When you're talking about a team changing its culture, that is exactly what we are talking about. We're not looking for excuses, we're looking for solutions, and what are we going to do. We are also looking for opportunity for other guys."

As of now, that opportunity will go to rookie Nathan MacKinnon.

Roy had MacKinnon replace Duchene at center on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and McGinn at the wings at Monday's practice, and the trio will begin Tuesday game together in Columbus.

"You can't replace a guy like Dutchy. He's been good for us," MacKinnon said. "He has a ton of points for us this year, and he's been a huge difference for us. At the same time we're going to have to find ways to win without him, and we're deep and we have a lot of good players that we can do that."

MacKinnon has had a superb first NHL season as he leads all rookies with 56 points. His 23 goals this season are tied with Duchene for third on the Avs. He had been playing right wing on a line with Stastny at center and left wing Gabriel Landeskog.

Mitchell will replace MacKinnon on the Stastny-Landeskog line.

Roy said team has experimented with different line combinations throughout the season and are doing it now to see what might work in the playoffs.

"Just to give us different options," Roy said. "You can't just go 'bang' in the playoffs and try that. I think it's good to try different things. Our situation in the standings allows us to do this."

MacKinnon has already played with O'Reilly and McGinn at different times this season, and he plays a similar style as Duchene. The hope is that the rookie can be inserted in and the line won't miss a beat.

"They both have great speed and great vision for the game. They both do so much," O'Reilly said of the two forwards. "MacKinnon, being a right-handed shot, coming down the right side I think he is a little more effective for beating guys wide and then cutting in on that side. Just as Dutchy is on the other (left) side. They're both great players and very similar, and it will be exciting to play with."

Landeskog did not practice on Monday, but Roy said it was just a precaution and that the Avalanche captain is expected to play against the Blue Jackets.

There was some good news on the injury front at Family Sports Center as Parenteau skated before practice for the first time since suffering a knee injury March 10 against Winnipeg.

Parenteau was expected to miss 4-6 weeks with his second knee injury of the season. He missed 10 games (Dec. 31 to Jan. 18) earlier in the year with an injury to his opposite knee.

Roy said he is hopeful that Parenteau will be ready to play in the Avalanche's season finale on April 13 in Anaheim. If Parenteau is not ready for that last game, Roy said the team is "pretty confident" the right wing will be back for the start of the playoffs a few days later.

Semyon Varlamov will get the start in net for the Avs on Tuesday at Columbus and Thursday at home against the New York Rangers. Roy said the team would then decide on who would play in the back-to-back games over the weekend, Saturday afternoon in St. Louis and Sunday's final regular-season home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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