COLUMBUS, Ohio--Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene is set to return to the lineup on Monday as the team concludes its three-game road swing at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Out since Nov. 13 with concussion-like symptoms, Colorado's leading goalscorer wanted to string together a series of "good days" before he put himself back in a game-situation. With three morning skates, two practices and a day off in Minnesota, the 25-year-old Avalanche veteran is feeling good and ready to go.
"He's healthy, so he's in; that's what went into the decision," head coach Jared Bednar said following morning skate on Monday. "Glad to have him back. We missed him when he was out. Guy comes in, he's leading our team in scoring right now, and we're getting him back in the lineup. Hopefully it gives us a boost."
On Sunday, Bednar said he planned on using Duchene on the wing on a line with rookie forward A.J. Greer and center Carl Soderberg. That will still be the case tonight when the puck drops at Nationwide Arena.
Video: Coach Bednar's pregame press conference
"Liked Carl's game the other night, did a good job on the power play," Bednar said. "So with [Mikko] Rantanen staying on that line with [Nathan] MacKinnon, I think it makes sense to slip [Duchene] in on the wing here. A little less responsibility defensively; he's been out for a week. He's been working hard though in practices and pregame skates to get ready and in the gym, so I think he'll be fine."
Although he started on a line with MacKinnon and Andreas Martinsen, Greer has no misgivings about his new combination.
"[They have] a lot of poise. Carl has good offensive instincts, and I can just rely on him to be where he needs to be every step of the way, whether it is in the D-zone or in O-zone," Greer said. "I don't have to worry about covering him or making sure that his guy won't be open because he's always so responsible. So I can just focus on the things that I do best, and that's one thing I like when I play with Carl. And Dutchy, he is just a great player all around. One of the best in this league, so I'm excited for tonight and I can't wait to get this going here."
For the 19-year-old native of Joliette, Quebec, any chance to soak up some knowledge from a guy like Duchene is invaluable.
"His work ethic, it's something that you see that differentiates him from maybe not these guys on this team, but other pros and other kinds of skilled guys like him," said Greer. "He puts in the extra work, and you see it. Let's say he misses a shot in practice. It will piss him off a little bit because he didn't score. He kind of has that edge that you need to have during the game. It's definitely something that I'm liking, just being next to him. We've kind of chatted a bit about our game and what we want to do in the O-zone and the D-zone and neutral zone. I think it will [work] well tonight and have some good results."
Video: A.J. Greer talks about playing with Matt Duchene
Now the Avs are tasked with stopping a Columbus team that has already scored 34 goals at home this season. The Blue Jackets have also won four in a row and are 8-1-1 in their last 10, presenting a challenge at the conclusion of this roadie.
According to defenseman Fedor Tyutin, stopping Columbus starts with playing Colorado's style of hockey.
"You just have to stick with the game plan. First and foremost, you got to play a good defensive game, limit your turnovers and the things that we've got into trouble [with]. We've been taking too many penalties. Just try and stay out of the penalty box. It's simple," he said. "You have to play sound defensively, you know."
GOING BACK TO LUMBUS
There are a handful of Avalanche players and staff making their return to Columbus for the first time since leaving the organization, including forward Rene Bourque, defenseman Fedor Tyutin and coaches Nolan Pratt and Jared Bednar.
For Tyutin, who joined Colorado as a free agent on July 1, walking into the arena on Sunday for practice and heading to the unfamiliar visiting locker room was a strange experience.
Video: Fedor Tyutin on his return to Columbus
"Way weird. It definitely feels different, unusual," he said from his stall, surrounded by Columbus media welcoming him back.
The 33-year-old blueliner played 553 of his 816 career games with the Blue Jackets, so he certainly got to know many people in and around the team. Despite this, he said any warm and fuzzies he has will be gone when the game starts.
"I expect them to play hard. I don't expect anything less than that," he said. "Once the puck is going to be dropped, I'm sure every feeling is going to be aside. We all have a job to do, a game to play and try to get a 'W.'"
Although Bednar never coached the NHL club, he did run the show for Columbus' American Hockey League affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, for two years, which included a Calder Cup win last season. So Bednar was another guy that had a busy morning shaking hands and seeing familiar faces.
"I've run into a few guys, said hello. A lot of good memories from my time with the Jackets, and there is still a lot of friends that I have here. So I'm glad to see them doing well. Hopefully, they start doing well again tomorrow," Colorado's bench manager said with a chuckle. "I think it is going to be a lot of fun. A lot of good friends made in this organization. They gave me an opportunity to coach here and work with some great kids when I didn't have an opportunity elsewhere, so I'm grateful for that. They always treated me real well here.
"I'm glad to see them do well. I think they deserve it. I think the city deserves it. It's been a little bit of a long haul for them. The coaches, the players, all the guys here, I've got to spend some time to get to know a few of them, so I'm glad they're doing real well."
The title of this section is a bit misleading, as unfortunately there has been no further update on Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog. Out with a lower-body injury, the Swedish forward did not join the squad on the three-game road trip. He's been under evaluation in Denver.
Landeskog last played on Nov. 15 against the Los Angeles Kings. He has eight points (four goals, four assists) in 15 contests this season.