When Ducks left wing Jason Blake was accidentally cut on the left wrist by the skate of San Jose defenseman Brent Burns in the Ducks' third game of the season, the team was on its way to a rare good start. The Ducks won the game in which Blake was injured to improve to 2-1 and won their next two games as well.
Blake, who underwent surgery and rehabilitation on his wrist, will return Wednesday when the Ducks face San Jose at Honda Center, slightly ahead of the schedule projected for his recovery. While he was gone the Ducks' good beginning turned into a grim season.
The Ducks (10-21-6) rank 29th in the NHL and were 19 points out of the final West playoff start before Wednesday’s games. Blake’s absence is a small factor in their struggles—the blame goes to inadequate goaltending, shaky defense and a spiraling lack of confidence—but his competitiveness should inject life into a team that seems to fall apart when the slightest thing goes wrong.
Blake is eager to get back and is expected to be reunited with his old linemates, center Saku Koivu and right wing Teemu Selanne.
“It’s been a tough three months sitting out, not being able to play, not being able to do anything for about six weeks there,” Blake said after the Ducks’ morning skate at Honda Center.
“It’s nice to get back and play hockey and be around the guys. That’s what you miss the most. We’ve got such a great group of guys in here. You just want to hopefully get in there and contribute and do well.”
He said he never imagined the team would struggle so miserably since that good start.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “But it’s a new year and we’ve got a lot of hockey left. Strange things can happen. I think the biggest thing for the Ducks is to worry about the Ducks and not worry about anything else. Don’t look at the standings, just play. We’ve got to win hockey games. That’s the bottom line. Even if you were in a playoff spot right now you’ve still got to win games.
“The onus is on the players. We have to make sure that we’re ready to play. You can draw the Xs and O's all you want but you’ve got to go out there and perform.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau, who replaced Randy Carlyle while Blake was on injured reserve, said he planned to give Blake no more than 14 or 15 minutes’ ice time in order to ease Blake back in.
“He’ll give us a boost,” Boudreau said. “You know Jason. He’s full of energy. He’ll play hard. He always does.”
Although Boudreau hasn’t seen Blake play this season, he’s familiar with Blake from their shared time in the Kings’ farm system. Boudreau said he coached Blake for a few weeks in Lowell, Mass., then the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, and remembers him well.
“And I’ve seen him in L.A. when he was younger but he’s a different person than when he was younger,” Boudreau said. “He’s got the same feistiness but I think he’s a little more mature than he was back then.”
Blake, incidentally, said he held no grudge against Burns for the freak accident and wouldn't be seeking any kind of retribution Wednesday.
“Stuff happens in hockey,” Blake said. “I haven’t even thought about Brent. I have the utmost respect for him even before this happened.”
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Photo: The Ducks Jason Blake is held down by Vancouver Canucks Keith Ballard during a game on Oct. 13, 2010. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.