Colorado Avalanche: The Return of Joe Sacco's Doghouse

Joey Suyeishi@avrilancheCorrespondent IIMarch 23, 2012

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 10:  Head coach Joe Sacco of the Colorado Avalanche directs his team against the Nashville Predators at the Pepsi Center on January 10, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avlanche 4-1.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Colorado Avalanche battled back from a 3-0 deficit, but ultimately fell 3-2 to the Phoenix Coyotes last night in the desert.

The Avs' goals were scored by Ryan O'Reilly, the team's leading scorer, who played without a visor despite a broken nose.  The other goal was tallied by Paul Stastny, who has quietly found his offensive game of late.

The loss hurt the Avs in the standings as they fell from seventh in the Western Conference down to ninth, and out of the current playoff picture.  They will get a chance to move back up tomorrow night when they host the division-leading Vancouver Canucks.

In addition to the importance of the two points not earned by the Avs last night, another story that emerged from the game was the line of Peter Mueller, Matt Duchene and Milan Hejduk.

On paper, this sounds like a top line on most NHL teams.  Last night, however, they were barely a fourth line.  Duchene, the Avs' most gifted offensive player, saw only 7:21 of ice time.  Mueller logged 8:13 and captain Milan Hejduk saw 11:00.  Cody McLeod, a normal fourth line forward by comparison, played 8:53 last night.

Now no one is going to argue that Duchene, Mueller and Hejduk have had the most successful years, but shouldn't talent like that see at least a bit of ice time in the third period of a very, very important game?

Mueller's concussion problems plagued him for over a year and a half.  After missing that much time, his conditioning certainly isn't where it would be had he played a full season healthily.

CALGARY, CANADA - OCTOBER 26: Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Calgary Flames on October 26, 2011 at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
Dale MacMillan/Getty Images

Duchene too has been hampered by injuries and is no doubt still bothered a bit by a balky ankle suffered just a couple weeks ago.  At the time of the injury, it was thought that Duchene would be lost for at least the remainder of the regular season, but he returned just nine days later and has been playing through it ever since.

Captain Milan Hejduk has been healthy for most of the season, but his standard production just hasn't been there.  The former 50-goal scorer needs an unlikely seven goals in the next six games to continue his 12-year streak of at least 20 goals per season.  

You certainly cannot argue with many of Joe Sacco's decisions of late.  The Avs are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and have been playing very good team hockey.  

However, despite the slumps had by Duchene, Mueller and Hejduk, I don't think it was the right call to bench them as he did last night.  I don't think Duchene logged a single shift in the third period and Mueller and Hejduk got one or two with Mark Olver as their substitute center.

Guys like Duchene and Mueller need to play, and play a lot to be effective.  Benching them to send a message does very little at this time of the year and had they played even a couple more shifts, perhaps Stastny, O'Reilly and Landeskog would have had just a bit more gas in the tank during the final minutes.

The Stastny and O'Reilly lines were both good last night, but successful NHL teams must have more than two lines who are a threat.  Especially for a team like the Avs with no superstars, they must have balance and depth.

The season is certainly not yet lost for the Avs, but they will need all of their players to contribute in order to get to the postseason, especially their top players like Matt Duchene, Peter Mueller and Milan Hejduk.