TORONTO—There were a lot of smiles on the faces of Colorado Avalanche players at practice on Monday at Air Canada Centre.
The Avs have won three in a row and are playing with a lot of confidence, scoring at a 4.33 rate while only allowing one goal per game through the first three contests of a seven-game trip. The team won 6-1 on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens, the best team in the league.
Still, the Colorado players know there is a lot of work to be done as the team remains below .500 with a 7-9-1 record and next faces a Toronto Maple Leafs squad that has gone 3-1-0 in their last four games.
"Coming in, we looked at it hopefully being the turning point of our season," Duchene said of the club's long road trip. "So far it's been good, but we are still two games under .500. We haven't accomplished anything yet. We're happy, but we're not satisfied."
The Avs practiced for about 45 minutes at the home arena of the Maple Leafs after having Sunday off and looked loose in their preparations for Tuesday's game.
"That's how we practiced a couple of years ago. We worked hard, but we were loose," Duchene said. "Today we had a good crisp practice. We did some team bonding yesterday and stuff like that. I think if we keep on winning, we're going to keep having fun like that. The most important aspect is the work is still there."
It's easy to see the poise the team is playing with, especially Duchene. The forward has 12 points (seven and five assists) in his last seven contests and recorded eight points (four goals and four assists) in Colorado's three victories last week.
Prior to practice, the NHL announced that Duchene had been named the first star of its "Three Stars" of the week.
"It's a big honor. Obviously, it's a big tribute to my teammates and our team for how well we've played because without that, there is no way for me to have the success that I had last week," Duchene told reporters after practice. "You need a team nowadays. You can never do it on your own, especially in today's game, [the league] is too good. I was lucky to play with some great linemates and our 'D' has been moving the puck really well. As a team we want to keep going, and hopefully we see another one of our guys in the top three stars next week."
Coming to Toronto is kind of a homecoming for Duchene, who grew up in Haliburton, Ontario. While Haliburton isn't a suburb of Toronto—it is located two hours northeast of the city—it is the closest he'll get to playing in front of family and friends from his hometown.
John Mitchell is the only other player from the province of Ontario on the Avs' active roster. He is from Oakville, which is roughly 30 minutes south of Toronto on the shore of Lake Ontario, but the center's status for the contest against the Leafs is questionable.
Mitchell missed practice after re-aggravating an oblique injury and is listed as day-to-day. He had missed four straight games with the ailment before returning last Thursday in Boston.
The only other player to not practice was goaltender Semyon Varlamov (groin injury), who was placed on the Avs' injured-reserve list on Sunday to make room for new forward Chris Wagner.
Colorado picked up Wagner on waivers from the Anaheim Ducks, and nearly 24 hours later he was practicing with the club on the other side of the continent. He arrived in Toronto from California early Monday morning.
If Mitchell can't play on Tuesday, Wagner will center the third line with Cody McLeod and Andreas Martinsen.
Goaltender Reto Berra will make his fifth consecutive start in net for the Avalanche.
PRACTICE LINE COMBINATIONS
Mikhail Grigorenko—Nathan MacKinnon—Matt Duchene
Blake Comeau—Carl Soderberg—Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod—Chris Wagner—Andreas Martinsen
Dennis Everberg—Ben Street—Jack Skille
Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Brandon Gormley—Nate Guenin
Did not practice: John Mitchell (oblique) and Semyon Varlamov (groin)