ST. LOUIS — There is no replacing T.J. Oshie, who does just about everything for the Blues. This includes setting the tempo and energy level that helped his club finish with one of its best seasons in franchise history.
When scanning the St. Louis roster, Steve Ott probably doesn’t stick out as the most likely candidate to fill the void created by Oshie’s absence on the top line. But that’s where you’ll find him tonight, playing alongside David Backes and Alexander Steen, when the Blues open a highly anticipated playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Ott, who came from Buffalo in the Ryan Miller trade, was hardly a throw-in in the deal. The Blues believed his personality and versatility would only help complete a roster they believe is built to make a postseason run.
The transition from Buffalo to St. Louis hasn’t been easy for Ott. He’s still adjusting to the Blues’ style of play and, more important, to how he fits in on a team far more talented than the group he captained in Buffalo.
"How we play is completely different than Buffalo," Ott said. "From special teams, the set plays and defensive structure, I’ve had to learn how the team plays."
Ott went on to explain how difficult it can be to change teams at midseason.
"You have to push yourself to a level until it feels natural," he said. "The pressure is high and you can feel yourself carrying the extra weight."
Ott has had to adjust to a lot less ice time than he got in Buffalo, where he saw at least 20 minutes of action in 30 of the 59 games he played for the Sabres this season. As a Blue he hasn’t once played 20 minutes, and he has played more than 15:30 in just five of his 23 games. His season high for St. Louis: 17:56 against Edmonton on March 13.
Even with all the adjustments he had to make, Ott didn’t exactly walk into unfamiliar territory with the Blues. He was roommates with Brenden Morrow in Dallas for five seasons, played in the World Junior Championships with Jay Bouwmeester and Barret Jackman, and played with Jordan Leopold and Ryan Miller in Buffalo. He went to Buffalo from Dallas in a trade for Derek Roy. He was suspended on two separate occasions, once for a hit on Leopold, another for a hit on Carlo Colaiacovo. And Ken Hitchcock was coaching the Stars and Doug Armstrong was managing the club when Ott was drafted into the NHL.
When evaluating Ott, his minus-12 rating (with the Blues) certainly sticks out, a stat Ott calls "the worst stat in hockey." He’s been on the ice for several empty-net goals against while also running into some bad luck. He was a minus-7 during the Blues’ six-game losing streak to close out the season.
The Blues’ style of play is not overly complex, but it is very demanding physically. That, actually, should work to Ott’s advantage. His tenacity inside the defensive zone should fit in well with the Blues’ fast, physical style.
"Having Ott with Backes and Steen allows us to use Steen and Backes in a more offensive role," Hitchcock said. "This should help free them up."
Ott comes with some playoff experience. He has played in 34 career playoff games, including a trip to the Western Conference finals with Dallas in 2008.
His versatility as a player is what attracted the Blues to him. Expect him to have a primary role killing penalties, and he could see some power-play time as well.
— Armstrong signed 271 games worth of playoff experience over the summer with Morrow, Maxim Lapierre, Jordan Leopold and Derek Roy.
— Miller told me the biggest adjustment he had to learn with the Blues was getting to know the voices of his teammates. He told me he once heard what he thought was his teammate yelling "Leave it" behind the net in a recent game in Toronto. Turns out it was a Maple Leafs player who quickly stole the puck and put it in the back of the net.
— The Blues have gone 143:59 since they scored their last goal and 217:21 since scoring their last even-strength goal.
— Chicago comes into this series just 14-13-4 in its last 31 games, and just 2-8-1 in its last 11 road games.
— Ryan Reaves and Jaden Schwartz are the only two Blues players to have a plus rating in the month of April.
— The Blues are the only team in the playoffs without a player with a Stanley Cup ring. The last team to win the Stanley Cup without any rings on the roster was the 1989 Calgary Flames.
— The last two Chicago head coaches to face St. Louis in the playoffs were former bench bosses of the Blues — Brian Sutter in 2002 and Joel Quenneville this year.
— Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane is wearing a fairly large brace on his left knee.
You can follow Andy Strickland on Twitter at @andystrickland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.