By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock's parting words of "the beast is back" can only mean one thing: Steve Ott is on the ice.
Ott, out since tearing both hamstrings Dec. 5 against Toronto, has been skating on his own for the past few weeks, but on Friday as the Blues (39-20-9) put a four-game winning streak in the line against the Anaheim Ducks (37-20-9) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), he was skating with teammates.
He was talking, and talking, and as David Backes put it "yapping."
"It's a lot louder on the ice with 'Otter' out there, that's for sure," Backes said smiling. "He can't keep his mouth shut. He's always yapping, he always brings a level of energy to the group. You just love to see him back on the ice with how horrific that injury was."
Ott tore both hamstrings trying to lay a check on then-Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf and crashed hard into the side boards.
Needless to say, it's been a long and arduous process getting back, since his injury is a first of any kind in the NHL.
"The ice is one thing, but to be in the dressing room with the guys, the stuff you miss you take for granted," Ott said. "It surely is missed. ... It's the worst. You just want to be a part of it somehow, someway. The boys have played phenomenal. With the amount of injuries we've had, big games missed, the team's continued to play phenomenal.
"Today was my first time with a bunch of guys out there. It sure felt good. ... The rehab's been a long time coming. I took off last week to work with a guy I've been using in the summer time. ... Now I'm at the level where I get to be with the team. I'm practicing on a daily basis now. I'm going on this road trip, slugging away and continuing the hard work we've all put in not just myself, hopefully will prepare me for that first game back."
Ott was joined by Alexander Steen (upper body) and Brian Elliott (lower body), giving the Blues a training camp feel to it as far as bodies are concerned.
"For 'Steener' to be out there, he hasn't lost a step and Elliott, still with every puck or shot, he doesn't want it to to into the net," Backes said. "You love to see that battle. Those three guys back on the ice, it's all hands-on deck with the practices and we hope to have all hands-on deck for the games shortly."
Hitchcock was more joking about the additions.
"With Steen and Elliott, it's uplifting," Hitchcock said. "With Ott, it's not. The pain is back and we've got to deal with him. He's part-player, part-alumni, part-coach, part-head coach. We have a lot of fun together, but now I have to deal with a lot of opinions and a lot of debate and a lot of dialogue. It's fun in some ways, but the beast is back. What can I say?"
Ott will accompany the Blues on their season-long trip of the season that begins Saturday in Dallas. There's no set time for him to come back, but he has made it clear: he will be back.
"There's no set timetable in the sense of this injury," Ott said. "No one really's done this in the NHL. I guess we're writing the paper for it all and I feel sorry for the poor (person) that does it again. ... To have something repaired the way I had it; you had to pull your hamstring back up and to reattach it, sitting on your butt for the first six weeks not being able to do anything but let it heal and the amount of rehab to get going, it's an up-early, leave-late kind of thing. All of us would do it if you want to play in this league. For myself, I think I've got a lot left in me and I'm starting to feel real good."
Said Blue left wing Jaden Schwartz: "We miss those guys. Otter especially, who's had a long rehab process. He must be getting anxious and excited. Steener hasn't been out quite as long, but they're obviously big parts of our team. They looked like they're having fun out there.
"A little more chatter, a little more excitement and that's always nice to have. It keeps the guys loose."
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It's been 12 games played now for Schwartz, who returned after a horrific injury of his own when he fractured his left ankle Oct. 22 in practice crashing into the net.
Schwartz, who has five goals and four assists, has settled in nicely and rejoined "STL Line" teammates Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko, said the ankle is holding up as well as could be but may be a while before he feels 100 percent, if it ever gets to that point.
"It's still different. Its tough to explain, but mobility and stuff, it's not where it needs to be," Schwartz said. "When you come in from the off-season, you're working out all summer, lifting weights and things like that. I didn't get a chance really to lift much weights with the injuries, so you're really kind of going in not quite where you want to be. With that being said, you don't want to make excuses. I go in every game not thinking about it. Just go in, do my job, do what I can to help out. In practices and things like that, you can try to make it as best as you can. It's not the same, but it's just kind of a different process of how you get ready and things you can do on the ice.
"To try and get back to 100 percent, you don't even know if you'll get there eventually, but you want to try to get there as close as you can. There's no doubt as far as working on the mobility, strength, that will take a while. I'm hoping when next season comes that I can get into it as good as it can. But I'll worry about that when the time comes and just focus on playing right now."
Schwartz will have to put in more time, specifically targeting for the ankle, in the off-season to try and get the stability and mobility to where he wants it. To try and do that in the crunch part of the season is virtually impossible.
"There will be more ankle work done, more mobility on what I've previously done because I hadn't had to go through that," Schwartz said. "It'll be a little different managing it and working on it. With that being said, I'll do a lot of the similar stuff.
"You're not going to be able to change a whole lot, but you can do ankle, you can do rehab process as far as strength and workouts with the legs. That's a little bit different just because of the work schedule. I'll do everything I can to get it better. Once you get into the playoffs, that's when you want to try and get it as good as possible."
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With the 2017 Bridgestone Winter Classic being awarded to St. Louis, Blues right wing Ryan Reaves was ecstatic for the city.
But the Winnipeg native was asked how his hometown is going to react to the awarding of the 2016 Heritage Classic to the Jets, who will host the Edmonton Oilers in October.
"I don't know how they're going to last minus-50 degrees and sitting outside like that," Reaves said. "It's going to be cold. I definitely wouldn't be going to watch that."
Cold in October though?
"You're talking about Winnipeg; it's not St. Louis," Reaves joked. "It'll start getting cold. October may not be as chilly. We had a warm October (last) year, so I'm sure they'll pay them back this year."
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The Ducks enter play 0-1-1 in the past two games after a 14-game streak of games with at least a point (12-0-2). They're coming off a 3-0 loss at the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.
Anaheim was in St. Louis on Oct. 29, a 2-1 Blues win, and at the time, there was talk that coach Bruce Boudreau may be fired.
The Ducks have not only turned their season around but are, like the Blues, in a fight for a division title.
"The biggest change for us is they've changed so many different players," Hitchcock said. "I think there's six or seven different players collectively on their team between injuries and stuff that went on. We've got to adjust to that. They play a real honest game. They play collective on the ice. They've got five guys up, five guys back all the time. That's why they're having such a good season right now."
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With a win tonight, Blues goalie Jake Allen, who is 3-0-0 with a 0.87 goals-against average and .966 save percentage in four career games against the Ducks, can set a career-high for wins in a season with 23.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund-David Backes-Dmitrij Jaskin
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal. Anders Nilsson will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Magnus Paajarvi and Robert Bortuzzo. Alexander Steen (upper body), Brian Elliott (lower body) and Steve Ott (hamstrings) are on injured reserve.
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The Ducks' projected lineup:
David Perron-Ryan Getzlaf-Ryan Garbutt
Jamie McGinn-Rickard Rakell-Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg
Nick Ritchie-Nate Thompson-Mike Santorelli
Cam Fowler-Kevin Bieksa
Hampus Lindholm-Josh Manson
Simon Despres-Korbinian Holzer
Frederik Andersen will start in goal. John Gibson will be the backup.
Sami Vatanen (upper body), Brandon Pirri (ankle) and Chris Stewart (jaw) are on injured reserve. Clayton Stoner and Shawn Horcoff are healthy scratches.