ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jason Blake comes full circle Wednesday night when he returns from a 34-game absence against the San Jose Sharks.
Blake suffered a severe laceration on his left forearm Oct.14 when Sharks defenseman Brent Burns accidentally stepped on him. Blake needed corrective surgery but his return comes about two weeks ahead of schedule.
“It feels good. It feels strong,” Blake said. “You never know until you get into a game. Obviously you look back, three months ago … it’s kind of ironic. It’s a been a tough three months sitting out and not being able to play or doing anything for about six weeks there. It’s nice to get back and play hockey and obviously be around the guys.”
After that game, Burns walked out to the ambulance that transported Blake and offered his condolences. Blake appreciated it and has moved on.
“I pretty much forgot about it,” Blake said. “Stuff happens in hockey. You hate to see it happen. I haven’t even thought about that - Brent - and being out. I have the utmost respect for him, even before it happened. He’s a great player. He’s brought a lot to the San Jose Sharks hockey club. I haven’t thought about that.”
Added Burns: “You feel bad when something happens like that. I’m glad he came back. I know he’s been through a lot. Obviously when a guy’s been through a lot like that, there’s something special about him.”
Blake, 38, will resume his spot at second line left wing with Saku Koivu, 37, and the 41-year-old Teemu Selanne.
“It’s the oldest line in pro sports, I know that,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau joked.
Boudreau said he would prefer not to have to play Blake more than 14-15 minutes but “we’ll see how the game goes.”
“The one thing about Jason is that he’s always in tremendous shape,” Boudreau said. “If he’s feeling great and playing great, I’m not going to hold to that.”
New lines: Boudreau put back together the top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry after he briefly did the unthinkable and split Getzlaf and Perry on New Year’s Eve against Colorado.
That means that Anaheim will have the same top two lines as in the start of the season. Blake’s return also allows Anaheim to put Niklas Hagman on the third line for more balance.
Hagman had played with Getzlaf and Perry and fared well but he is more suited for this role.
“Now, with everybody healthy, he becomes a solid third-line guy, which is where I think he fits rather than having to force him to be on the first line,” Boudreau said.
Anaheim has San Jose’s number: Nearly a third of Anaheim’s 10 victories have come against San Jose as the Ducks have surprisingly gone 3-0 against their Pacific Division rivals.
Well, it’s not so surprising given that Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller is 5-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average in his last six games against the Sharks. Two of the three meetings this season have been 3-2 victories.
“They’ve been able to get to three and we haven’t,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “I use that race-to-three all the time. Their goalie has been the first star, I think, in all three matches. He seems to elevate his game against us. So we’ll have to find a way to crack that nut.”
San Jose will start Antti Niemi, who is set to make his 13th straight start. McLellan isn’t concerned about leaning on his No. 1 too much, especially considering that this portion of the schedule allows for it.
“Not one bit,” he said. “He hasn’t played much. We’ve had three days, out of the last 12, completely off. I look around and see (Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan) Quick and Jimmy Howard (of Detroit) and those type of guys excelling the more they play. I think his game has gotten better. You ask me this question in February on a nine-game road trip then I might answer it a little different.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Benn Ferriero - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Patrick Marleau
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Andrew Murray
Douglas Murray - Justin Braun
Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Jason Demers - Brent Burns
Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Jason Blake - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Matt Beleskey - Andrew Cogliano - Niklas Hagman
Nick Bonino - Rod Pelley - Andrew Gordon
Cam Fowler - Francois Beauchemin
Lubomir Visnovsky - Luca Sbisa
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank