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Blake is Back

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

Blake back in black.

For a Ducks team looking for good news anywhere it can find it, the impending and long-awaited return of one of its veteran forwards would certainly qualify.

Jason Blake, who has missed 34 games with tendon damage above his left wrist, has deemed himself "ready to go" as soon as tomorrow night's game with the San Jose Sharks. "It’s the coach’s decision. I think I’m ready to go," said Blake, who has been back practicing with the Ducks for the last week and a half, including full contact. "It feels pretty good. You’re not going to know how you feel until you get into a game. I hopefully will play tomorrow night. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

"It’s been a tough, long road that I had to go down. It’s been an uphill climb. I feel like I finally got to the top of the hill and I’m hopefully back and will be able to play."

Bruce Boudreau didn't indicate yet whether Blake would be in there tomorrow night, but did say, "We don't really know what we're gonna see tomorrow. I know he'll have a lot of energy and we'll see how long that lasts. It's tough to come back. It's almost like training camp revisited for him. It will be interesting to see."

Teemu Selanne was a linemate of Blake's with Saku Koivu before the injury, but won't necessarily be with him when Blake returns. "I'm so happy for Blake. It's a tough injury, and he's worked extremely hard to come back. It's nice to see the 'bunny' out there. He brings a lot of energy and spark and speed. I'm very happy."

If Blake is cleared to play tomorrow, it will be against the same Sharks team in the same arena as when the horrific injury occurred. That came last October 14, when Blake went down to the ice in a fight for the puck, and San Jose defenseman Brent Burns inadvertantly stepped on his arm, causing a deep gash just above the wrist.

So much has changed with the Ducks since the time of the injury. The Ducks ultimately won that game and the next two (including a rematch with the Sharks in San Jose) to start the season a promising 4-1-0. It's a little more of a coincidence that they've struggled without Blake, as he brings constant energy and a veteran presence to an all-important second scoring line. Without him, the Ducks have had to do some shuffling to find the right fit for their forward combinations.

"I look back at the last three months of watching a lot of hockey, not only our team, but every team. I look at our team and the talent we have, it is tough," Blake said. "You’re not in the position you want to be in. It’s a new year. We haven’t lost in this year yet. We want to keep moving forward and try to put some wins together.

Like the rest of the Ducks, Blake is trying to find optimism in this new year.

"There are a lot of games left. I think right now it’s just about us and what we need to do, what we have to do. We can’t afford to be losing in bunches. We have to start winning some hockey games. It’s a big game tomorrow night. San Jose is a great hockey club. We have to be ready."

Without a doubt, Blake will be ready after an agonizing last three months. His return, if it does come tomorrow night, is actually a little ahead of the three full months he was supposed to miss.

"I have been skating for five or six weeks now. Basically, conditioning every day," he said. "That’s about all I could do. It wasn’t fun. At the end of the day, you just hope it paid off. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. I’m just going to go out and try to do my best, work hard and take short shifts. It’s not going to be like you feel like you’re in midseason form by any means. I’m just going to take it shift by shift. That is all I can do. We’ll see how it goes. I'm ready to play."

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Also on the injury front, defenseman Matt Smaby, who has missed all of this season with a torn ligament in his thumb, appears poised to return and has been practicing with the Ducks. "I’m just happy to see him back here," Boudreau said of the former Tampa Bay Lightning...member ...signed by the Ducks last summer. "I don’t know his progress or the plans for him right now. He’s here. Let’s skate him and get him in game shape.

Boudreau said that (s)maybe (sorry, couldn't resist) he'll be going to Syracuse on a conditioning assigment. "He hasn’t played and missed camp," Boudreau said. "The sure bet would be that he’d have to go down on a conditioning basis and play some games, I would think. That would be the first thing I would think would happen, unless it was such an emergency situation where you had to stick him in. Let’s see where he is after the fifth day of this.
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Here's Boudreau from today and keeping things positive for his Ducks: "You have to make short-term goals. I know the cliché is one game at a time. I like to look at it one week at a time. You try to win the week. If you win the week, after a couple of weeks then you look start looking at the standings.

"Right now, we’re about it’s a new year. Let’s start everybody at zero and let’s see how we do in the new year. Let’s look up at the end of January where we are. If we are closer, then let’s look up at the end of February. Then, all the sudden if things go our way, everything gets shorter and it’s less time to sit there. It’s not as daunting, is what I guess I’m getting at.

"If you look down and go ‘Geez, you have to win 36 out of 44 games. That is a pretty daunting task.’ But if you just sit there and say  ‘Let’s let one and then win two.’ Then, all the sudden you don’t have to win as many. I can only go by experience and that is the way we’ve done it in the past and it’s been successful. It has to start with one, then you have to win two in a row and go from there.

And on whether he even looks at the standings these days: "I definitely try not to right now. I know where we are. I don’t have to look at where other teams are. If we win three or four in a row, then I’ll start looking. That’s just me. I’m ridiculous that way."

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The Ducks made a minor deal this morning, trading winger Nicolas Deschamps to the Maple Leafs for winger Luca Caputi. 

Caputi (aside from having one of the more fun names to say in hockey) is a big 23-year-old who has played all of this season with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Last season, he spent some time with the big club, getting in seven games with the Leafs and going scoreless. He debuted three seasons ago with Pittsburgh, and played 23 games with the Pens and Leafs in 2009-10, scoring eight points. He has a respectable 100 points in 154 career AHL games between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Toronto, including 44 goals.

Deschamps was a former second round pick of the Ducks in 2008, who had seven points in 31 games with Syracuse this season.

Interestingly enough, Deschamps and Caputi will switch locker rooms when Syracuse plays at Toronto tonight. 
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