Top Shelf: Duchene-less Avs still have plenty to prove

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Updated: 4/01/2014 2:45 pm

Philadelphia, PA ( - With a 100-point season and an unexpected trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs under their belt, the 2013-14 campaign has already been a runaway success for the Colorado Avalanche in most people's minds.

Fortunately for the Avalanche, they have a head coach who doesn't know how to rest on his laurels.

Not much was expected of the Avalanche heading into this season. We knew the team was loaded with young, talented players, but installing rookie NHL head coach Patrick Roy behind the bench seemed like an odd fit for a team still trying to find its identity.

Of course, at this stage, nobody is questioning the Roy hiring. In fact, when it's time to hand out the NHL awards, there is an excellent chance the Hall of Fame goaltender will add the Jack Adams Award to his long list of accomplishments as a player.

Roy, however, is a winner through and through. When you've lifted the Stanley Cup four times as a player, settling for individual accolades or simply managing to exceed the low expectations set out for your team is never going to be enough.

Colorado may have already improved by leaps and bounds from last season to this one, but you can be sure Roy isn't going to loosen the reins with the playoffs right around the corner.

Roy's biggest achievement this season has been getting the Avalanche to believe in themselves. However, with leading scorer Matt Duchene expected to miss the next month due to a knee injury, Roy has to make sure his team's confidence doesn't wither away without its top centerman.

Few people were picking Colorado to make the playoffs heading into 2013-14, but the Avs changed a lot of minds before the season was barely a month old. Yet, despite the club clinching a playoff spot for only the second time in six seasons and reaching the 100-point mark for the first time since 2003-04, Roy's team still has its detractors.

Most of the naysayers have gone quiet while Colorado has proven time and again it's no fluke. However, those same people are probably patiently awaiting what they believe to be the team's inevitable collapse in the postseason. While the injury to Duchene gives those folks another reason to look past the Avalanche, Roy sees it as an opportunity for his troops to get even closer together.

Getting guys to believe it can win without a player of Duchene's caliber would be a tough sell to many teams, but at this stage, the Avalanche are buying into whatever Roy says.

"We had to find ways to win hockey games, and this is what this team has been doing all year," Roy said. "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."

Duchene, who leads Colorado with 70 points on 23 goals and 47 assists, was in the midst of his best NHL season before injuring his knee mere moments into Saturday's 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. He goes on the shelf with only two weeks left in the regular season and his recovery timetable suggests Duchene will miss at leas the first round of the playoffs.

The loss means Colorado needs several players to step up and fill the void, and perhaps none more than rookie centerman Nathan MacKinnon.

MacKinnon will take over Duchene's spot on the top line, where he'll play in between wingers Ryan O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn. The No. 1 overall pick from last summer's draft has done a terrific job of making the transition to the NHL game, but replacing Duchene could be a bit much to ask of an 18-year-old, even one who is immensely gifted like MacKinnon.

Although he leads all NHL rookies in points (56) and goals (23), MacKinnon knows he can't make up for the loss of Duchene on his own.

"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."

It'd be easy to write Colorado off since Duchene's injury, but everything we've seen from the team this season suggests this Avs team isn't going to go down without a fight. Roy has had his team one step ahead of the critics all season long, why can't he keep that trend going in the playoffs?

At this point, the only way to quiet the negative crowd is for Colorado to prove itself all over again in the playoffs. Knowing Roy's resume and what he's done with this team, it could be foolish to bet against him.

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