Ottawa coming to town doesn’t normally evoke extra excitement. Then again, the Senators have never come to Denver with a former franchise player who demanded to be traded.
Friday night’s game at Pepsi Center pits Ottawa center Matt Duchene against his former team, the Colorado Avalanche, more than a year after he was dealt to the Senators in a three-team trade. Duchene was open about not wanting to be with the Avalanche when training camp started in 2017, saying he reported to the team to honor his contract.
A month later, he was with the Senators who, ironically, acquired him just before Colorado and Ottawa played a two-game set in Sweden. So this is the first time since the trade he will play in Denver, where he was an Avalanche for eight-plus seasons after being drafted third overall in the 2009 draft.
“It’s a lot of emotions, obviously,” Duchene told reporters Thursday. “It’s going to be really weird to walk into that rink. The only time I’ve been in the guest locker room is when we were doing our blood tests in training camp. It’s definitely going to be an interesting experience.
“There will be some nerves and some anxiety but once I get on the ice and just play hockey it should be a little easier.”
The Avalanche made out well, getting four players and three draft picks from the Senators and Nashville combined. One player, 20-year-old defenseman Samuel Girard, has become one of Colorado’s top blueliners.
The Avalanche (6-2-2) turned the page pretty quickly on the Duchene trade, reaching the playoffs for the first time in four years last spring. They’ve started strong this season despite suffering a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night.
It was the first time they had been shut out at home since March 2017, and it’s not hard to see why they’ve been able to score. The top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog has been producing points since last season. Wednesday was the first time they were held without a point this season.
Right after the loss the players were focusing on Ottawa.
“Good teams respond, so it obviously (stinks) tonight,” defenseman Ian Cole said after the loss to the Lightning. “You know, it’s a missed opportunity for us to beat a great hockey team but, like I said, we’re going to reassess, have a practice tomorrow and be ready to go come Friday night.”
Ottawa (4-3-1) is coming off a 4-1 loss to Boston but had won three straight before facing the Bruins. They are led in scoring by Thomas Chabot (three goals, seven assists) with Duchene third with eight points (one goal, seven assists).
Duchene isn’t the only player making a return to Denver. Goaltender Craig Anderson spent a year and a half with the Avalanche and backstopped them to the playoffs in 2010 when he played in a career-high 71 games. He has faced the Avalanche before, so the fans’ focus will be on Duchene.