Dale Hunter stepped outside the Washington Capitals' Mount Vernon practice facility Wednesday, basked in the 77-degree temperature and said, "This sure is different from Quebec. I'll bet it's snowing there already."

Far to the northeast, in Quebec City, Gaetan Duchesne looked at a mounting pile of bills and said, "It's so cold. I had to buy boots and coats for me and my wife. I miss the weather in Washington."

The weather has been one of several pleasant experiences for Hunter and Clint Malarchuk since they were traded to Washington by the Quebec Nordiques in June. For Duchesne and Alan Haworth, who return to Capital Centre tonight, the journey in the opposite direction has been a mixed blessing.

Duchesne, a tireless worker who became a favorite of the fans in Washington, is on the bench most of the time these days, as a fourth-line winger for Jason Lafreniere and Gord Donnelly.

Since Donnelly received a five-game NHL suspension yesterday for kneeing Boston's Willi Plett, Duchesne at least has company in his misery.

"I just come here and I don't want to have problems," Duchesne said. "I know everything I say in Quebec will come out big. But I've always been a great worker and I thought coming to Quebec -- my home -- would be nice for me. So far, I can't contribute the way I want."

Meanwhile, Haworth has blossomed as the center for Lane Lambert and highly skilled Michel Goulet. It is the only Quebec line that has been intact since season's start and Haworth ensured its continuity with his third NHL hat trick in Tuesday's 4-3 victory over St. Louis.

Still, it has not been a perfect transition for Haworth. Although a Quebec native who speaks fluent French, he is married to a Washington woman and he is playing out his option because the Nordiques would not give him what he considers fair value.

"It's hard for Judy {his wife} because everything is French," Haworth said. "As much as it's hard for a hockey player to be traded around, it's harder for the wife.

"I'm playing out my option for several reasons. You'd think since they traded for you, they'd give you a good contract like Hunter got from Washington, but they apparently have a question about my knee. There are no hard feelings, but it's in my interest, with the tax situation in Quebec, to keep things open. Quebec is a good place to play hockey, but the taxes are bad."

Anyone trying to turn tonight's game into a vendetta on the part of any of the traded players will have a tough time. None of the four had anything bad to say about his former employer.

"A lot of guys when they're traded are mad at their old team, but I'm not," Hunter said. "{Quebec Coach} Andre Savard was a neighbor of mine and I hope they do well, although not against us. The Nordiques are a good organization and they have good players. I wish them the best."

Malarchuk said, "I had good friends in the city and on the team. It was sometimes a different life style in Quebec, but I had no regrets. The organization treated me very well. I had good success there and I have a lot of good memories."

Duchesne said, "I was comfortable in Washington. I was always nice to everybody and everybody was nice to me. After the trade, I receive a lot of letters. People were warm to me and I have been anxious for this game, so I could go back there."

Haworth said, "Last year with Bobby's {Carpenter} thing, it was a very tense year for everybody. For me, the knee spoiled things after I got off to such a good start. But I had some good years in Washington and I really enjoyed playing there with my fellow plumbers {Greg Adams and Craig Laughlin}."

Malarchuk will be in the net tonight, but he said he was approaching the game in a low-key manner. The only soft game he has played all season was the home-opener, a 6-4 victory over Chicago, when he let his emotions get away from him.

"I don't want to put too much hype on the game," Malarchuk said. "It's another hockey game and another hockey team. I'll be ready and I'll know some of their shooters, but there are a lot of new faces there. I'll have to play against those guys the rest of my career, so I don't want to make this game into something it isn't."

Capitals Notes: Mike Gartner, who raised $41,000 for Children's Hospital last year, once again will give the hospital $50 for each goal he scores and he is seeking fans and businesses to join him in similar pledges . . . Former Capital Robert Picard will be in the Quebec lineup after missing two games with a bruised knee.