Haliburton native Matt Duchene said he’s still feeling the sting of being the first team ousted in this year’s NHL playoffs.
His Nashville Predators fell in four straight games to the Colorado Avalanche. Duchene had a strong playoff, with three goals and one assist, however the Avalanche were too much for the Preds.
“I wouldn’t say (the sting) is gone, that’s for sure,” Duchene told The Highlander.
“I think as long as teams are still playing, it’s hard to put in the rear view. At the end of the day, we didn’t have Saros, who’s one of the best goalies in the league, and against a high-octane offence like Colorado has, you need your starting goalie.
“I think that we were exposed in some other areas that needed to be exposed for us to take the next step so I think that long-term, the loss can benefit us,” Duchene added.
Goalie Juuse Saros was sidelined with a lower body injury, forcing backup David Rittich into the series. The loss of Saros, who won 38 games and had a .264 goals against average and .918 save percentage, cost the Preds against a team Duchene skated with for nine seasons.
Despite the playoff loss, Nashville finished the 2021-22 regular season with a record of 45 wins, 30 losses and seven overtime losses for 97 points to finish fifth in the NHL Central division.
While he does not like the term “bounce back season,” Duchene had a strong year, with 43 goals and 43 assists for 86 points. By contrast, he only scored six goals and seven assists in a COVID-shortened 2020-2021. It was a big jump on 2019-2020 as well, when he had 13 goals and 29 assists for 42 points.
“Just being put in the right places to succeed,” Duchene said of the turn-around.
“I felt that since I got here, there were some exterior things holding me back and this year, between my minutes, linemates and how great our powerplay was, the table was set for me to succeed as long as I brought my best. Some conversations were had in the off season between myself and our coach and myself and our GM and I think those were pivotal in my success this year.”
Duchene said he is already excited about next season.
“I think we were exposed in the first round and I think that really showed our management, our coaches and us, as players, where we need to improve to get to the next level. Our style of game can change in some ways to make us more dangerous offensively throughout the lineup and I think management sees some roster changes that could help us going forward. Losing exposes weaknesses, which, if looked at the right way, can ultimately lead to winning and that’s what excites me going forward.”
Duchene said he is also looking forward to getting back to Haliburton County this summer. He plans to be home mid-June.
“Really excited for lots of time at the lake, on the golf course and with family. Obviously, I’m still training and skating throughout the week but it’s always nice to come home to my hometown.”
He will also be back for the Matt Duchene charity golf classic, a major fundraiser for the Haliburton Highlands Health Services Foundation that has been grounded by COVID-19. It is scheduled for July 22.
“The golf tourney is always a highlight and it’s an honour and a privilege to be able to raise money for such an awesome cause to make the town that I love so much a better place.”