Northwest: Five players to watch in the stretch run

By Blake Benzel

Photo: A healthy and productive Matt Duchene will go a long way in helping the Colorado Avalanche qualify for the NHL playoffs (courtesy of

Russell Lansford/Icon SMI)

The only team in the Northwest that has solidified their playoff berth is the Vancouver Canucks, who occupy the top spot in both the division and the conference. Three more teams are positioning themselves for a run at the playoffs, however unlikely, but they’ll need some big performances to get in. Here’s is the players most important to their teams’ push to the playoffs.

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche

Duchene has had a bit of a rough go of it this season, suffering a knee injury that had him on the shelf from Dec. 31 to Feb. 18 and struggling to put up points. But the Avalanche need Duchene to get back to being the player that put up 67 points last season. There’s something to be said about Duchene’s consistency – looking at his stats, you’d never know that he has just 26 points this season – but the Avs need more than consistency. Duchene has just two multi-point games this season, but the Avalanche need more than that if they’re going to make a serious push towards the post-season.

Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames

As we
mentioned yesterday, the Flames were silent on Feb. 27 despite some gaping needs on their squad. Mike Cammalleri represents the closest thing to help that the Flames are going to get. The good news, though, is that help scored 82 points in a season the last time he donned a Flames uniform. Cammalleri has had his struggles this season, but with six points in his last ten games, he’s shown signs of coming around. The Flames desperately need him to step up and shoulder some of the scoring load down the stretch. They have just three players on their squad with more than 15 goals and just two more, including Cammalleri, with more than ten. It’s a broken record, I know, but the Flames aren’t going to be going anywhere if they can’t start spreading the scoring wealth a little bit.

Cal Clutterbuck, Minnesota Wild

After trading off one of the key figures in their locker room, the Wild seem to be in dire straits right now. Their secondary scoring has been nearly non-existent and, with Mikko Koivu out for at least two more weeks with a shoulder injury, their primary scoring is threatening to become non-existent as well. Last season seemed to be Clutterbuck’s breakout year. He was one goal away from hitting the 20 goal milestone for the first time in his career, and he looked to be on the rise as a potential 20-20 scorer in the league. This season has seen him take significant steps back in his game. He scored just two points throughout all of February, and he has lost his cool on more than one occasion, taking penalties out of frustration rather than drawing them as he normally does. The Wild’s playoff chances are slim, but they need Clutterbuck to step up if they even want to keep those slim hopes alive.

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

Sure, the Canucks aren’t in danger of slipping out of the playoff race, but they’ve got bigger things on their mind such as, for example, winning the Stanley Cup. Apart from the fact that they were bullied throughout most of their series with the Boston Bruins, their biggest Achilles ’ heel during the playoffs was Luongo and his seemingly fragile mental state. That’s why a strong stretch run for Luongo is one of the most important things for the Canucks. A strong stretch run gives Bobby Lou the confidence that he’ll need to shake the disappointment of last season’s playoffs and get his mind on the right track to make sure that the Canucks win the last game of their season this year.

Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche

Varlamov has been off of his game for most of this season. In his 38 games played, he’s given up five or more goals in seven of them. He’s given up four goals in four more. To say that he’s struggled is likely one of the largest understatements of the season. Lately, however, Varlamov has been outstanding. In his last six games, he’s given up more than one goal just once – a 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets – and he’s looked every bit like a number one goaltender. The NHL playoffs are typically decided by a hot-handed goaltender, and that’s what Varlamov looks to be heading down the stretch. That is, as long as he hasn’t peaked too soon.

Northwest Division Notes

Calgary Flames: The Flames have recalled Leland Irving from from the Abbotsford Heat. In five games this season, Irving is 1-1-3 with a 3.26 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.

Colorado Avalanche:
Cedrick Desjardins is 9-6-1 this season for the Lake Erie Monsters, with a 2.18 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. … Jamie McGinn will make his Avalanche debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

Edmonton Oilers:
Nick Schultz played 19:45 in his Edmonton Oiler debut, was even and tallied an assist. … The Oilers lost 5-2 to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday. Corey Potter and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored for the Oilers. … The Oilers re-assigned forward Magnus Paajarvi to the Oklahoma City Barons on Wednesday. Paajarvi has six points in 41 games for the Oilers this season.

Minnesota Wild:
Minnesota Wild prospect Nick Seeler was named the USHL’s CCM Defensive Player of the Week last week after tallying a goal and four points in two games. … Defenseman Mike Lundin is skating on his own again for the Wild. Lundin has missed multiple games this season with varying injuries.

Vancouver Canucks:
Defenseman Sami Salo scored his 300th career point on Feb. 19 against the Edmonton Oilers. … Alexandre Burrows played in his 500th career game on Feb. 21 against the Nashville Preadators.

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