By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The landscape of the NHL has changed so much for Blues center Jason Arnott, that his own teammates were taking playful jabs at him Thursday morning.
"I think he fell off his dinosaur when I was born," defenseman Barret Jackman said of Arnott. Jackman is 30, Arnott is 37.
To which Arnott laughed, "I'm sure there are a lot of jokes going on here about that."
It's playful because Arnott will reach another milestone tonight when the Blues (15-9-3) host the Anaheim Ducks (8-14-5).
Tonight marks Arnott's 1,200th game in the NHL, becoming the 89th player in league history to reach such a milestone and sixth active player behind Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom (1,520), Washington's Roman Hamrlik (1,334), Philadelphia's Jaromir Jagr (1,295), Anaheim's Teemu Selanne (1,286) and New York Islanders' Brian Rolston (1,209).
"It's remarkable to play in the league that long," said Selanne, who has 646 goals and 1,367 points in his career. "You have to do a lot of things right with your body and have a lot of luck, too. ... Obviously it's a combination of looking after yourself and staying healthy. You just appreciate that you're able to play for such a long time."
Arnott, a native from Collingwood, Ontario, didn't realize it was Game No. 1,200 but took it all in perspective.
"It's been a fun ride," he said. "A dream come true. Any kid that wants to play hockey in Canada in a small town growing up just dreams of playing one day, one game in the NHL. I've had the opportunity to play 1,200, it's been a heck of a ride. I've enjoyed every moment.
"The fun never gets out of the game. You always want to play as long as you can. You enjoy it that much more, you enjoy coming to the rink that much more. You just take it all in a lot more than you do when you're younger."
Arnott has 917 points, including 404 goals in his career. He was a first round pick (No. 7 overall) by the Edmonton Oilers in 1993. He's played for six teams, including New Jersey, Dallas, Nashville, Washington and now St. Louis.
"It's a great accomplishment," said teammate Scott Nichol, who was with Arnott in Nashville when he played in his 1,000th game. "Even just a thousand games. Just getting to that is the true testament of his character. He just perseveres every year.
"You think how many kids get drafted every single year and there's only four center spots. You're always one of them for the last 1,200 games. You're doing something right. You're a pretty elite athlete if you can play that long, especially in a physical sport like this."
Added Blues coach Ken Hitchcock: "No. 1 for me is health. When you get into those numbers, you're talking about being able to have healthy seasons. He's had consistent offensive seasons for a long time and he's been able to play most of the games.
"Your role changes. You don't just all of the sudden become an elite player and then just fall off the map. But he's found usual niches in places like Nashville, Washington and here. I remember (Detroit's Steve) Yzerman at the end of his career when he was still effective, he was a third and fourth line player, but he was a very effective player and scored big goals at the right time."
Arnott was 18 years old when the Oilers drafted him, and unlike today's game where 18-year-olds are a common element in the game, it was a totally different game for younger players trying to break in back then.
"It's a big flip-flop," Arnott said. "There were very few of us that were 18 that got the opportunity to play back then. Now it seems like everybody's 18, 19, 20 years old.
"Some of these guys in here I feel like (their) dads. It's crazy to see the young faces ... that was me at one time. I got the opportunity to play with older guys when I got started. It was very enjoyable and I owe a lot to them. I played this long probably because of them. I learned a lot from them."
If people don't think players appreciate games-played milestones, consider Selanne's reaction when asked Thursday morning:
"I think 1,000 games is a major milestone. I think it's bigger than 500 goals ... at least for me," Selanne said. "I think at 1,000 games, you're in an extraordinary group.
So many things have to happen to achieve 1,000 games. In this league, it's tough.
"Players know how big it is. He can be very proud of that. I am."
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The Blues will go with Jaroslav Halak in goal tonight against the Ducks, days after Hitchcock disclosed that Halak had a sore groin.
Halak said that the injury is nothing to be concerned with.
"It's fine. It's nothing serious," Halak said. "... I could have played (Tuesday). It's not like I can't play. I can practice, I can play."
The injury occurred in the week leading up to his start Friday against Colorado, where he stopped 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout loss.
"It was fine. I knew it was there, but it didn't affect my game," Halak said. "Obviously I'm looking forward to get back in (tonight) and see game action. We'll see how it goes. I'll try to do my best out there and help the guys win a game."
Halak, who is 4-7-3 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .903 save percentage, has a 1.60 GAA and .944 save percentage in his last eight starts.
"He was sore on Monday, but he's fine now," Hitchcock said of Halak. "I could have gone with him (Tuesday). I just made the decision early to set the schedule. I had Halak playing Thursday and then I'd make a decision for which way I'd go for Saturday.
"When he said he was a little bit sore, I said, 'OK, let's just go with the schedule.' Then I saw how mad Brian (Elliott) was, that kind of defined for me to say, 'Let's stay with this.' I want to see how this fella reacts when he's angry. Some guys get angry and they can't get over it. I wanted to see if he could refocus and he did (after Saturday's 5-2 loss to Chicago). Pretty impressive."
Halak and Elliott have the Blues behind only Boston's Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask in goalie tandems. Halak and Elliott have a combined 2.08 GAA and .920 save percentage.
"As long as we can get some points and keep winning, that's all you can ask from the team or from your goalies," Halak said. "The team can only ask the goalie to give the team the best chance to win. That's what I'm trying to do.
"When they see that you're making key saves or good saves at key moments, it always helps. It's always about timing too. They're feeding off it and playing well in front of us."
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Both Hitchcock and Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau go back to their days of coaching in the International Hockey League, Hitchcock at Kalamazoo and Boudreau with Fort Wayne. They first crossed paths in 1994 and now both are entrenched with new teams after filling jobs that became open after the Blues and Ducks each fired their coaches that started the season.
The transition has been good for Hitchcock, whose team is 9-2-3 since taking over the Blues Nov. 6. Boudreau, who was fired from his post in Washington Nov. 27 but quickly found a job in Anaheim a few days later, is 1-1-1.
Since Boudreau is still in the early stages of getting acclimated with his players and staff, Hitchcock offers up a piece of advice to make the transition smooth.
"The partnership that lead the group is really important," Hitchcock said. "I was lucky. I never knew David Backes from anything. I really relied on (Jason) Arnott and (Jamie) Langenbrunner, but Backes already had a grip on the team and then we forged a partnership to build, and I think that's what you have to do.
"You can't build relationships with players overnight, but if you can build a relationship with your captain and get that comfortable, I think you can see that with (Boudreau) and (Ryan) Getzlaf, (Corey) Perry, Selanne and those guys. He's talking about those guys every day. ... I always say if you can coach five or six and instruct 25, you're going to do good. He's coaching those five or six and that's what we have to do to get it changed quick."
Boudreau said he's following a similar pattern of opening lines of communication with his leaders.
"We've sat down and talked," Boudreau said. "We've had individual meetings with them and collectively. ... Trying to find out where they're at and give them my philosophies and to see if it fits in with what we're going to do.
"I haven't had a chance to talk to everybody individually because it's happened so quick. But I will get that when we get home. There's about eight guys left that I haven't talked to. I'll talk to them just to try and get to know everybody on a personal basis."
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The Blues went with their same lineup that won Tuesday against Detroit, aside from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who sat out with the flu:
Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini-Vladimir Sobotka-Jamie Langenbrunner
Chris Porter-Jason Arnott-Scott Nichol
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Kris Russell-Ian Cole
Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal tonight; Brian Elliott will back up.
Winger Ryan Reaves is a healthy scratch. The Blues are also without injured players Andy McDonald (concussion), B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) and Kent Huskins (ankle).
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Boudreau was non-committed on his probable lineup but after winning Tuesday, the probability exists the Ducks stick with the same lineup as Tuesday:
Matt Beleskey-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Bobby Ryan-Saku Koivu-Teemu Selanne
Niklas Hagman-Andrew Cogliano-Devante Smith-Pelly
Nick Bonino-Maxime Macenauer-George Parros
Cam Fowler-Francois Beauchemin
Toni Lydman-Luca Sbisa
Sheldon Brookbank-Nate Guenin
Jonas Hiller is the starter, although there was an outside chance Dan Ellis, coming off a groin strain injury, could see his first game action since Nov. 25.
Scratches are winger Andrew Gordon, winger Jean-Francois Jacques and defenseman Kurtis Foster. The team is without injured defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (finger), forward Jason Blake (wrist) and defenseman Matt Smaby (thumb).