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Ex-Avs excited about first game back in Denver

Friday, 12.02.2011 / 6:09 PM / NHL Insider

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent

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Ex-Avs excited about first game back in Denver
Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk left in a blockbuster deal with the Blues on Feb. 18 and are back to play at the Pepsi Center for the first time as opponents.
DENVER -- Two familiar faces were in unfamiliar territory this morning when Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart strolled into the visiting locker room with their St. Louis Blues teammates at the Pepsi Center.

It was the first appearance in town for the pair since they were traded from the Colorado Avalanche to the Blues in a blockbuster deal on Feb. 18. The Blues received Shattenkirk, Stewart and a second-round draft pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, while the Avalanche got defenseman Erik Johnson, center Jay McClement and a first-round pick.

Shattenkirk and Stewart played against the Avalanche four days later in a 4-3 loss in St. Louis and will meet their former team for the first time in their old stomping grounds tonight.

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"It was weird walking in and not going to the other locker room. It's a little strange," Shattenkirk said after the morning skate. "I have a lot of good buddies on the (Avalanche). At the same time, I know they're not going to let up in the corners against me. It's a fun competition against these guys. You want to beat your buddies out and brag about it later."

Shattenkirk, 22, was a first-round pick (No. 14) of the Avalanche in 2007 and has emerged as one of the League's top puck-rushing defenseman. He was the highest-scoring rookie defenseman a year ago with 43 points (9 goals, 34 assists) in 72 games, and this season has 2 goals and 12 assists in 24 games.

Stewart, 24, was Colorado's first-round pick (No. 18) in 2006. A 6-foot-2, 232-pound power forward, Stewart has gotten off to a slow start with 3 goals and 4 assists in 21 games after averaging 28 goals and 30 assists the previous two seasons. He recently served a three-game suspension for a hit against Detroit's Niklas Kronwall.

Stewart has 2 assists and seven shots in four games since returning. After scoring 2 goals in the first three games of the season, he has just 1 goal and 4 assists in 18 games.

"I've been getting some chances," he said. "I'm trying to be the same player that I've always been, a big power forward, taking pucks to the net, trying to get those ugly goals and banging bodies."

Shattenkirk and Stewart had dinner Thursday night with several former teammates, during which a few friendly jabs were exchanged.

"A lot of good conversation," Stewart said. "I'm obviously up for this game. I spent a long time here, most of my career here, so it's exciting. I have a lot of good memories, but obviously we're here to get the two points and to play a good game."

The Blues have been on fire since Ken Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne as head coach on Nov. 6, posting an 8-1-2 record while outscoring teams 27-15.

"It was easy (for players) to buy in because there weren't a lot of changes," Hitchcock said. "Davis had a similar system. I mean, I'm not sure what I've tweaked. I've just done what I do. I don't know what I've tweaked at all. I just coach. For me, the team just flat responds and plays hard."

He must be doing something right.

McClement, who has 4 goals and 1 assist in 23 games, will be in the Avalanche lineup tonight, but Johnson (9 assists in 21 games) will miss his fifth game in a row because of a groin injury. He was placed on injured reserve Nov. 25.

The Avalanche have split the first six games of an eight-game homestand, are 5-9-0 at home overall and come off Wednesday's 6-1 win against New Jersey. The Avalanche haven't won back-to-back games since a five-game streak on the road from Oct. 10-17.
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