- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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We've seen only early returns so far, but the manner in which the Colorado Avalanche have responded to Matt Duchene's knee injury tells you once again about the character of this young club that seemingly still hasn't made believers out of everyone.
Duchene was injured on his first shift of the game, but a short-handed Avs team still went out and beat the powerhouse San Jose Sharks 3-2 on Saturday afternoon. Then they went into a tough Columbus building Tuesday night and came back to beat a desperate Blue Jackets team 3-2 in overtime.
Bring on the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
The young Avs seem inspired by wanting to prove people wrong, and now with their leading scorer out roughly four weeks, they're as hungry as ever to do just that.
"It's part of the culture that we've ingrained here on this team," Patrick Roy told ESPN.com on Wednesday in an interview conducted in French. "It's about always believing in each other, it's about hard work, it's about perseverance ... at the end of the day, the guys have confidence in each other, even if we're missing a key player; we don't look for excuses, we seek answers. We look forward, not back."
And really, that's the kind of attitude that was established right from Day 1 when Roy took over as head coach in his first NHL season behind the bench. He helped foster an environment that was going to lay the foundation to this remarkable, 102-point (and counting) season for an Avalanche team that was 29th overall last season.
"Two words that mattered a lot to us from the get-go were 'trust' and 'respect,'" said Roy. "We wanted to trust each other and respect each other. That was really important for us. I think the culture changed here with this team and you see the results that have come from it. The players have worked really hard and they've bought in."
Roy gives the players all the credit, but when he's announced as one of the three finalists for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year this spring, it will be clear other people will also want to underline his work.
Case in point: Tuesday night in Columbus, where the Avs were deservedly down 2-0 to a Jackets team that had outplayed them.
Roy decided on a third-period line change, putting rookie Nate MacKinnon -- who had begun the game replacing Duchene between Ryan O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn -- back on the wing with Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny. The result? Landeskog tied the game late and then scored in overtime as the line came up big in the clutch.
"Certainly, Mackinnon with Stastny and Landeskog is really working well right now," said Roy. "They've been scoring important goals and playing big games for us."
On the other hand, he doesn't mind his decision to give MacKinnon time at his natural center position between O’Reilly and McGuinn to start Tuesday's game; after all, it's where MacKinnon is eventually going to spend the rest of his career.
With Duchene out, Roy will take the opportunity to give his roster a few different looks down the stretch; it's a chance to find out things that he might not otherwise have had the chance to.
"I'm going to experiment," Roy said about juggling his top six without Duchene. "So that's not to say at some point I won't try O’Reilly in the middle, or on the right side with Stastny and Landeskog. There's a few things I can do. We'll see when [P.A.] Parenteau comes back from injury what we can also do. But right now, I can try different combinations."
Parenteau has been out since March 10 with a knee injury, but Roy said he could be back for a game or two before the end of the regular season. That would give the Avs coach another top-six option up front, at which point, Roy said, he could, for example, put O'Reilly in the middle between Parenteau and McGinn. Maybe.
"We'll see, I've got a few things I'm thinking about," said Roy.
As for Duchene's injury, there's nothing new to report.
"It's still early, his treatment will continue, but we're not taking any chances, that's for sure," said Roy. "When he returns, we'll make sure he's 100 percent. Obviously, it hurts to lose a player like him, and it hurts him not to be part of these games, but it happens -- look at Chicago with [Jonathan] Toews and [Patrick] Kane, every team goes through it."
The Avs enter Thursday night's game three points up on Chicago with a game in hand. The Avs and Blackhawks know they're almost definitely going to meet up in the opening round of the playoffs in the 2 vs. 3 Central Division matchup. Which leaves one thing left to accomplish before then.
"We'd like home-ice advantage, obviously. That's going to be what we're working toward," Roy said. "Both teams have their injury issues. It's going to be an interesting end to the regular season."
15dScott Burnside and Craig Custance