ST. LOUIS — Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu aren’t just linemates anymore.
They’re about to share a significant milestone.
The Senators wingers suited up for career game 599 Friday night against the Blues and are both scheduled to play No. 600 on Monday vs. the Kings at Scotiabank Place.
Neil and Ruutu have taken very different routes to 600, but they’re both about to arrive in the same place, at the same time and they’re equally proud of their accomplishments.
“I knew I was getting close to (the milestone),” said the 31-year-old Neil, drafted in the sixth round (131st overall) by the Senators in 1998. Just being around that long is an achievement for sure.
“It means I’m getting older,” he added with a laugh.
“Just being around that long and being able to play that many games, I hope I’ve got a lot more left in me. The way, I play, a physical game, it’s definitely an accomplishment to play that much.”
Neil has been fortunate to play his entire career with one team. Ruutu, drafted in the third round (68th overall) by Vancouver in 1998, has had stints with the Canucks and Penguins before signing with the Senators in 2008.
“I knew (the milestone) was coming at the start of the year, but I haven’t thought about it too much,” said the 35-year-old. “It’s a pretty good coincidence (that we’re playing it at the same time). It’s kind of neat, being linemates.
“You have to be doing something right to be able to get to this point. Especially for me being a late bloomer (Ruutu made his NHL debut in 2000-01) and having to go the long way to make the league. To say here that long, feels good.”
So, can Neil and Ruutu start thinking about 1,000? That’s a lot more realistic for Neil because he’s four years younger than Ruutu, who was passed up for the draft the first year he was eligible.
“It’s 400 away, so it’s a bunch more years,” said Neil. “If you can stay pretty free of injuries, I’d definitely love to reach 1,000.”
THE MORNING SKATE
The Senators went bowling after practice Thursday to lighten up a long week. C Jesse Winchester was pleased with his 150, but reported that D Brian Lee was the best on the team. “He came out on fire, he must have spent some time bowling in Minnesota,” said Winchester. Apparently, D Matt Carkner had the “trick shot” of the day with “one of the best strikes I’ve ever seen.” Winchester wouldn’t reveal details and Carkner wasn’t available to offer an explanation. RW Ryan Shannon said it was nice for the team to be together the day after attending the memorial service for assistant coach Luke Richardson’s daughter, Daron. “As tragic as that event was, it brings people together,” said Shannon. “Guys wanted to spend (Thursday) doing the same thing.” ... A guy who deserves a chance to be an NHL coach again: Former Senators captain Brad Shaw, who had an interim stint with the Islanders in 2005-06. He’s now an assistant with the Blues.
AROUND THE BOARDS
Blues G Jaroslav Halak, 0-3-1 in his past four starts with a .800 save percentage, was given the night off by coach Davis Payne. But his No. 1 status isn’t in danger. “This will give (Halak) a chance to get settled back in and refocused for his next outing,” said Payne. Halak, dealt by the Canadiens in the summer, had been a rock for the Blues until the last week. So, what’s the biggest difference from playing in Montreal? “A lot less media,” said Halak. He wouldn’t discuss his relationship with Habs G Carey Price, except to confirm they got along as professionals, but were competing for playing time. “I’m not really watching what’s going on there,” said Halak. “I’m just focusing on what’s going on with our division and our conference. It’s great that people are cheering for (Price) and the team. I just wish him good luck the rest of the year.” ... Shannon suited up for his 200th NHL game against the Blues.
STOPS ’N’ STARTS
Good job by Senators D Chris Campoli to avoid taking out G Brian Elliott when he was racing for the puck and lost his balance with help from Blues F Alex Steen. Campoli took out the net instead ... Senators coach Cory Clouston said Lee, scratched for the 13th straight game, has to keep working. “Sometimes there’s nothing you can do as a player other than stay positive, try and work hard in practice, try and pay attention in the video room, so when the opportunity does come that you’re ready to play,” said Clouston. Lee is likely going to have to agree to a two-week conditioning stint with the club’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton to get playing time ... RW Alex Kovalev has to make a better effort than on the setup from C Jason Spezza on a 2-on-1 early in the game. Blues G Ty Conklin had it all the way.
THE LAST WORD
Senators GM Bryan Murray on the death of Pat Burns: “It was always a competitive game against Pat Burns. He was very popular with his players. Every team he had was very competitive. It was sad that he was struck with cancer and he battled so hard to survive. I know the last time I talked to him he was very weak.”