CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Colorado Avalanche
coach Joe Sacco is banking on new linemates to help rejuvenate Matt Duchene
, who has gotten off to his customary slow start.
The third-year center skated with left wing Joakim Lindstrom
and right wing Chuck Kobasew
at practice on Tuesday. The trio will be together Wednesday night when the Avalanche visits Calgary for its first Northwest Division game.
"I just think it's going to be an effective line for us," Sacco said. "I think it's an opportunity for that line to mesh together. We're going to try that line and see how it goes."
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Unhappy with Duchene's production in the first seven games, Sacco demoted him to the fourth line Saturday in Chicago, where he skated between Cody McLeod
and Jay McClement
. Duchene played a season-low 11:35 and didn't have a shot on goal or a point in the Avalanche's 5-4 shootout win.
Duchene, who had a career-high 27 goals and a team-best 67 points last season, has one goal and three assists in eight games this season. His only goal came Oct. 13 in the Avalanche's 7-1 win in Ottawa, and he's been held without a point five times.
"I'm just focusing on the right things now," Duchene said. "It's going to come. I have to start doing the little things. I focus sometimes on bigger things rather than focusing on the process. If I do that, I'll be fine."
Duchene has registered 11 shots on goal, tied with Ryan O'Reilly
for 10th on the Avalanche and sixth among the club's forwards. He hasn't taken a shot in the three of the past four, and in four games overall.
Duchene felt compelled to initiate a talk with Sacco after Tuesday's practice to clear the air. He said he apologized to Sacco and to his teammates for his subpar play.
But the 20-year-old wasn't performing much better at this point in the season a year ago, when he had one goal and four assists in eight games before turning it around to post his best statistical season to date.
"We just need him to be the player that we think he's capable of," Sacco said. "He knows that he can be better. What he needs to do, obviously No. 1, is to be an effective offensive player when he has the puck and be physical when he has the puck. I want to see him take pucks to the net. I want to see him use his speed more effectively.
"He's one of the quickest skaters in the game with the puck. When he has it, he has to take it to the net, challenge the opposition's defensemen more."
Duchene played the first three games with Peter Mueller
and Milan Hejduk
and the next four with Lindstrom and Hejduk when Mueller, who missed all last season while recovering from a concussion, was scratched from the lineup. Hejduk replaced Kobasew on a line with David Jones
and Paul Stastny
on Saturday in Chicago and will stay there in Calgary.
Mueller told Sacco a week ago that he didn't feel well after a practice and he didn't practice again Tuesday. "Nothing new to report," Sacco said.
"I'm just focusing on the right things now. It's going to come. I have to start doing the little things. I focus sometimes on bigger things rather than focusing on the process. If I do that, I'll be fine." -- Matt Duchene
Duchene, meanwhile, has too much talent for his mini-slump to last much longer.
"I know what I have inside and I'm just trying to get it out," he said. "Sometimes it's tough, especially as a young kid. You're still learning about yourself, learning about your on-ice play. It comes with time."
The encouraging part for Duchene and the Avalanche is that the team has gotten off to a 6-2-0 start, including a 6-0-0 record on the road. After Wednesday's game with the Flames, the Avalanche will play 11 of 15 games at home.
"It's nice to get (the road games) out of the way early, especially when you're winning," Duchene said. "You'll have more of the meat of the season at home. It's nice to get those road games out of the way and it's nice to get those W's too."
It will be even nicer for Duchene when he begins to produce the way he has in the past.