Monday, October 27, 2014


Gunnarsson will make season debut Tuesday; 
Stastny back at practice; Tarasenko, Reaves questionable

ST. LOUIS -- This time, Carl Gunnarsson didn't hide, as coach Ken Hitchcock joked about recently when it came to approaching the Blues' defenseman about playing.

Gunnarsson, who's missed the first seven games while rehabbing from off-season hip surgery, declared himself fit and he will make his season debut when the Blues play the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.

"He's good to go. He'll play tomorrow," Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson after practice Monday.

Gunnarsson was acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the NHL Draft for defenseman Roman Polak. He finally gave the Blues the green light that he is healthy enough to play after skating on Sunday.

"I told them whenever they want, it's up to them right now if they want me in," Gunnarsson said. "It feels good. It's a different feeling. I just want to get back in there ...  a little nervous if I'm back in. That's how it should be."

The Blues were off Sunday but Gunnarsson skated and ran into Hitchcock at the rink.

"I caught him in a bad spot," Hitchcock joked about Gunnarsson. "We had the session yesterday. I was the only guy at the rink and he got stuck walking in the door the same time as me. We had the conversation and he was already anticipating that he wanted to play on Tuesday. He's ready to go."

Gunnarsson was told what Hitchcock said.

"I was kind of hiding in the shadows," Gunnarsson joked. "We talked a little bit about it, but he knows it takes time too. I hope that he was happy with me giving him the green light." 

Gunnarsson, who has 15 goals and 86 points in 304 games (all with the Maple Leafs), was operated on six months and is on target with what was originally the time frame for his return.

"I don't like watching games. It's kind of a weird feeling. ... It'll be good to get back in.

"I did a lot of skating too and extra conditioning. That's what we've been doing for the last two weeks. ... It feels pretty good. Once you get into games, that's when you really know how it feels. Our here in practice, it feels good. I've been doing a lot of extra stuff. First guy in, last guy out of the rink. I've been putting in those extra couple minutes every day. I've been in here doing more and more contact."

Hitchcock was unsure on Monday who Gunnarsson will play with or who he will replace in the lineup. All they know is that Gunnarsson's minutes will be monitored initially.

"I think this is a little bit different. The season's started," Hitchcock said. "We've got to be smart about this. We know why we traded for him and where we want him to play, but to ask him to go and play that role right now is a little bit unrealistic. Let's be smart about this. Let's work him into the role, let's evaluate it on a period to period basis. He's done everything, we've done everything to get him ready for this, but there's no such thing as trial run once you get into a game. He's walking into a tough opponent and it's going to be significant, but I think if we're patient with him. If we give him four or five games, he's going to get up to speed pretty quickly.

"We don't know (who Gunnarsson will play with) yet. We're more worried about managing minutes and the role we're going to have him in. He's going to play in a couple different roles, but I think it's more managing the minutes."

Gunnarsson's teammates feel like he will  fit in well and fast.

"I think he can do it pretty quickly," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "I imagine coming in and playing defense on our team is maybe a little easier than some because of how well our forwards track back, how disciplined we usually are. Hopefully he gets right in there. It seems like he has good vision, although we haven't seen him in a game except fr playing against him. It seems like he's got good vision out there. It's going to be exciting to see those first passes that he can make and see what he can do."

Gunnarrson said he's past the mental aspect of thinking about the hip while he's skating. Now it's up to executing the system, which he's had ample time to watch.

"I'm not thinking about it on the ice," Gunnarsson said. "The last hurdle, I would say, is to get a game in. That's when you know how it feels for real. It's going to be different at practice and skating around on your own.

"I've seen it, but it's another thing to execute it on the ice at game tempo, too. At the same time, it's hockey, too. Just stick to the system. Don't over-think stuff."

* Stastny skates -- Blues center Paul Stastny, who sustained a shoulder injury Oct. 18 at Arizona, took part in practice Monday for the first time with the team.

After being in a sling the first couple days, Stastny has been on the mend and has skated previously. He was placed on injured-reserve Saturday. According to Hitchcock, the hope is to have Stastny as a full participant by the end of the week.

"This is the fifth day he's skated," Hitchcock said of Stastny, who had four points in the first four games. "... He'll be with the team for the full skate tomorrow. 

"Like we said, he's week to week. Once he's a full participant, which we're hoping is towards the end of the week, he can start participating on a full basis and we can evaluate him from there."

Stastny's teammates are eager to get him back.

"Actually, we were messing around," Oshie said. "Steener threw me a pass in the air and behind (Stastny's) back without looking, he knocked it out of the air. It was pretty cool to see. He must be getting close. ... It was just nice to have him out there."

Added captain David Backes: "Whatever he's dealing with, I'm sure he'll be back the first time they say he's OK to get on the ice. He's a battler, he's a guy that we need to be at full strength. He's a huge part of our team."

* Scouting the Stars -- The Blues (3-3-1) get back into Central Division play when they face the Stars (4-2-2), who are coming off a 7-5 loss Saturday against the New York Islanders.

The Stars bolstered their loaded forward lineup when they traded for Jason Spezza this past summer along with Ales Hemsky.

Dallas has scored 25 goals in the past six games and have scored three or more goals in five of those six. But they have given up 22.

"They've got tons of speed. They fly around," Backes said of the Stars. "They've got that top line with all three all-star caliber players. We've got to do a job against that line and find matchups that we're winning. Special teams always comes down to who can win that battle. It's going to be a full 60-minute, hard-nosed Central Division matchup against a team that if you're not playing on your toes or playing your 'A' game, they can put up crooked numbers in a hurry."

The Blues went through a fast-paced hour-long practice in anticipation of the Stars' speed and for the potential of a track meet.

"That's not what we like to do," Oshie said. "We tend not to do too well in games like that even though we do have some skill players that can play that way. But we've got to limit their speed and that's with us playing with the puck on our stick in the o-zone, getting pucks deep and tracking back well."

Hitchcock didn't call it a practice to necessarily get geared up for the Stars.

"No. It's reflective on our game," he said. "We have the ability to create way more from things in our game that are very ingrained in us and very solid. We needed to get building on that stuff. It feels at the start of the year, like you've got 50 things to work on. We're into specifics now. We've got elements in our game. We don't want to take them for granted. We can touch on those subjects like we did today a little bit, but there's certain elements in our game that have to be improved. We've just got to do a better job on some of the things with the puck, on managing it and being able to create more offensive zone presence. We need the puck in the offensive zone more. There are elements in our game that we can really take advantage of with the way our team's built. That's what we did today. We practiced a lot of that, and we tried to work really hard today on playing a little bit faster defensively too so we can spend less time in our zone and not get bogged down."

Forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan Reaves did not practice Monday and are questionable for the game against the Stars.

Both are examples of players who have been affected by a bacterial infection that has hit the team in the past week.

"When I said we're in good shape (after the game Saturday), I should have shut up," Hitchcock said. "I shouldn't have said that because we're back into the same issues again."

There's a chance the Blues could play with seven defensemen, and that will depend on the health of players.

Brian Elliott will start in goal.

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