At a time when Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene needed a voice of reason, coach Patrick Roy was there to help rekindle his confidence.
Duchene has probably stopped counting the number of times he's been asked what NHL life has been like having Roy as coach the past three seasons. He never tires of answering the question, however, because it was Roy who provided a lifeline following a tumultuous start to 2015-16.
"I was struggling and after coming off a bad game in which I was robbed (by the goaltender) during my first shift earlier this season, I kind of shut down," said Duchene, whose Avalanche host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, ROOT). "I didn't play great the rest of the game and was pretty down. [Roy] pulled me aside and we watched video; he's very perceptive in terms of the visual sense and he helped me return to that foundation to what makes me go and what makes me, me."
Duchene considers Crosby the best
Colorado Avalanche right wing Matt Duchene is looking forward to the rematch against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Pepsi Center on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, ROOT).
In the first game on Nov. 19 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Duchene scored two goals but his team lost, 4-3. Crosby scored once.
"[Crosby] is a good friend of mine and we had a good chat after that last game," Duchene said. "They beat us but I was happy to see him score. He's a guy that works very hard and, in my opinion, still is the best player in the world. It'll be a while before someone knocks him off.
"He's always a good person to watch and see play, as is [Evgeni] Malkin."
-- Mike G. Morreale
It seemed simple enough, but after scoring once in his first 11 games this season, Duchene desperately needed to hit the reset button. He not only was in a funk, but the target of numerous trade rumors.
"I was pretty rattled for about 12 hours when a reporter asked me about possibly being traded and I had no idea what he was talking about," Duchene said. "I actually said to the reporter, 'Pardon?' when he asked me about it, but I know it's a business and most of us go through it."
The discussion with Roy played an even bigger role at that point.
"I think I was trying to be too perfect and was afraid to not make any mistakes but I was paralyzing myself by doing that," Duchene said. "That meeting with [Roy] made me realize it was OK to say 'just go play' and do what I do."
Duchene has done just that, particularly after being moved to right wing alongside center Nathan MacKinnon and left wing Gabriel Landeskog on Nov. 10, a 4-0 victory at the Philadelphia Flyers. Since joining MacKinnon and Landeskog, Duchene has scored 10 goals and 19 points in 14 games.
"It just kind of clicked right away," MacKinnon said. "[Duchene's] speed and creativity are off the charts. He's got a high hockey IQ and makes guys better, so it's easy to play with him. I feel like we can read off each other pretty well. I know he's a natural centerman, and I'm sure he'll be there again eventually, but right now it's working pretty well."
Landeskog said he can sense the confidence in Duchene whenever they skate together.
"It's not necessarily beating guys 1-on-1 but just being able to hold onto the puck for that extra second, protecting it really well," Landeskog said. "When your confidence is low you get rid of it pretty quickly and look for somebody else to do it for you. But every time he gets the puck he doesn't worry about getting rid of it. He sees his options, reads the play, and I think that's one of the differences you'll see in a player with confidence."
Roy said the move to have Duchene play right wing with MacKinnon brought back memories of when then-Avalanche coach Bob Hartley moved second-line center Peter Forsberg to left wing alongside top-line center Joe Sakic in the late 1990s.
"I'm not comparing these guys to them but just the situation," Roy said. "I wanted to see some speed and that's exactly what I have with [Landeskog-MacKinnon-Duchene]. I wanted to see [Duchene] around the net, and that's exactly what he's been doing. To me, it's a good fit for those three. I also wanted to see them getting a lot of minutes and they each play over 20 minutes a night."
Duchene considers himself fortunate to be playing on what has to be one of the more revered offensive lines in the League.
"[Landeskog] is a north-south, big, strong guy and his vision just keeps getting better and better as he gets older," Duchene said. "[MacKinnon] has so much raw ability; his speed and tenacity is something and he'll go through a brick wall. I think me and [MacKinnon] play a similar game, but we're different enough where it works and we're never in the same areas."
Duchene said it's a different dynamic working with MacKinnon at center. It just wasn't panning out when he was in the middle.
"It's crazy that it makes that big a difference, but our chemistry is much better," Duchene said.
"He's making more plays and trying more things, and honestly, when you get confidence you become a different player and most of the games are about confidence," MacKinnon said. "[Duchene] has that for sure."
Duchene, chosen No. 3 in the 2009 NHL Draft by the Avalanche, hasn't quite reached the elite status that the top-two respective selections have achieved from that draft class: New York Islanders center John Tavares and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.
The 24-year-old, who has now played in the League for seven seasons, knows he has a lot more to give.
"I'm not even close to feeling satisfied with my career," Duchene said. "I have a lot of things that I haven't achieved yet. The reason things are going better right now is I'm at peace with myself and feel confident and relaxed. I'm enjoying the game. The disappointments might have held me back for a bit and they'll creep in every so often, but the biggest thing is regaining that focus.
"I'm a very driven person and I have a lot of goals, but sometimes those goals can nag at you and hold you back."
Duchene is already two-thirds of the way to joining the prestigious Triple Gold Club; he won a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2015 IIHF World Championship, and now just needs a Stanley Cup to his name.
"It would be amazing to join that elite group," he said. "I gave myself enough time getting two of the three for as young as I am, but now comes the tough part."