Thirteen days ago Dustin Penner was a happy member of a team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations.
Tonight, he’ll return to the Honda Center to face his former Anaheim Ducks teammates as a member of the Washington Capitals, a team battling for a playoff spot.
“It’ll be awkward,” said Penner, who was traded on March 5 from the Ducks to the Capitals for a fourth-round draft pick. “I don’t think anybody expected me to get traded from that team, from the guys I played with to people around the league. It’s part of the business.”
Penner, 31, left out the word “unfortunate,” but it was clear from his very active twitter account that he had mixed emotions about leaving Anaheim so abruptly.
“I got an hour to pack up my life,” Penner told CSNWashignton.com. “Left a couple dogs behind, my car, my favorite CDs.
“The night before [the trade] you’re hanging out with friends and making plans for tomorrow night. I get a phone call the next night [from a friend] and it’s like, ‘Hey, are we going to the movies?’ And I’m like, ‘No, man, I’m in D.C.’”
When Penner arrived, Capitals coach Adam Oates used him as a second-line left wing with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer, and gave him time on the Caps’ second power-play unit.
But when Penner went his first six games without a point and newly-signed left wing Evgeny Kuznetsov showed he deserved more ice time, Penner was dropped to a fourth line, where he’ll play tonight with Casey Wellman and Tom Wilson.
Penner picked up his first point as a Capital in Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs when he assisted on a power-play goal by Brouwer with a soft backhand pass into the slot.
“I would love to score,” Penner said. “I’ve had chances and my linemates have had chances.”
Penner, who has been to the playoffs five times in his eight previous NHL seasons, said he can sense a different feeling in the Caps’ locker room than he did in Anaheim and he says it has everything to do with the Caps having 74 points and the Ducks having 97.
“I can feel the nervousness, but it’s not a bad nervousness,” Penner said. “We’re in a tough position in that we don’t have games in hand.
“When the puck drops for the game you can only worry about that moment in time. Scoreboard watching doesn’t help anybody unless it’s the last game of the year and you’ve already played and a team has to win on TV for you to get in.”
The Caps are hoping to decide their playoff fate before that and it begins with a pair of teams with whom Penner won a Stanley Cup [the Ducks in 2007 and the Kings in 2012].
Penner’s future is also in question. After this season he becomes an unrestricted free agent and it seems clear he’ll explore his options around the NHL.
“I’ve got to go back home and talk to my two dogs,” he said when asked about his playing future. “I don’t think they can deal with this kind of uncertainty. I’ll see what they want to do and where they want to go.”