Chris Pronger shouldn’t expect many warm welcomes when he takes the ice during his return to Edmonton on Tuesday night.
The former Hart and Norris Trophy winner who brought surprising Edmonton within a win of the Stanley Cup last season—and then demanded a trade—makes his return to Rexall Place when the Anaheim Ducks meet the Oilers.
“You know the fans will be on you, so it’s never easy,” Pronger said Sunday night in Anaheim, where he had two assists in the Ducks’ 5-3 win over Calgary. “We’ll see how it goes. It’ll be nice to go up there and enjoy the crowd. The fans treated me great when I was there.”
Pronger also will try to help Anaheim (17-2-6) end the league’s longest active road losing streak by one team versus another. The Ducks have dropped 12 straight in Edmonton since a 2-1 victory on Feb. 24, 1999.
Pronger’s exit from Edmonton (13-8-1) was as quick and surprising as his arrival there. Shortly after the lockout ended, the 6-foot-6 defenseman and four-time All-Star signed a five-year, $31.25 million free-agent deal with the Oilers after nine seasons in St. Louis.
While with the Oilers, Pronger scored 10 of his 12 goals on the power play. During Edmonton’s surprising playoff run, he tallied a team-high 16 assists and 21 points.
Fans in Alberta’s capital, though, have been slow to forgive or forget Pronger’s shocking announcement that he wanted a trade, citing personal reasons, days after losing Game 7 of the Cup finals to Carolina.
In July, the Oilers dealt Pronger to Anaheim for forward Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Ladislav Smid and draft picks. Lupul, a 28-goal scorer last season, has seven goals and five assists while Smid has just two assists in 22 games.
“When you lose a superstar it’s a hard pill to swallow, and I understand where (the fans are) coming from and I’m sure Chris does, too,” Oilers center Shawn Horcoff said. “We just hope they show a little bit of class.”
On radio and in print, some fans have indicated they want to publicly burn old Pronger jerseys, throw pacifiers on the ice or turn their backs on him in pregame warmups.
Pronger’s former coach said those actions may not faze the defenseman, however.
“He’s one of the few guys who could just block this (booing) out and play through it and that’s a sign of the mental toughness that he has,” Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said.
Now with the Ducks, Pronger has teamed up with Scott Niedermayer—another former Norris Trophy winner who will be playing in his 1,000th game—to form one of the league’s best blue-line tandems.
Pronger also leads all NHL defensemen with 26 points this season, including a three-point effort in Anaheim’s 6-2 home win over Edmonton on Oct. 25.
The Ducks have won four of their last five games, and their 40 points are tied with Buffalo for the league lead. Anaheim has played the fewest road games in the league so far this season, posting a 5-1-2 record in eight contests.
The Oilers have been successful even in Pronger’s absence. They enter this contest having won five in a row to move into a tie with Minnesota atop the Northwest Division.
Edmonton scored three first-period goals and Dwayne Roloson finished with 27 saves in a 5-1 victory over Chicago on Friday.
“He didn’t have to be spectacular tonight,” MacTavish said of Roloson. “He was when he had to be for some short times in the second period after we got a little casual with the puck.
“When we were up 3-0 we were trying to paint a picture every time we touched the puck instead of making it easy on ourselves. Instead we made it a little difficult on (Roloson) when it didn’t have to be.”
Roloson has won his last six starts, allowing only nine goals in that span.
Petr Sykora had a goal and an assist in the win and leads Edmonton with 24 points. He had 64 goals in two-plus seasons with Anaheim from 2002-05, but didn’t record a point in his first meeting against his former team earlier this season.