Friday, January 16, 2015


Gunnarsson, Polak trade to come full circle Saturday; 
Lindstrom to stay in lineup, Jaskin expected to play

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The trade that sent defenseman Roman Polak to the Toronto Maple Leafs for fellow defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and a 2014 fourth-round pick may not be defined until after this season ends.

But according to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who has admitted the Blues needed a puck-mover heading into this season, believes the trade was good for both teams even though both players have missed time this season because of injury.

"I really believe this is one of these trades that helped both teams," Hitchcock said. 

The Blues, who had their five-game winning streak come to an end Thursday with a 3-2 loss in overtime to the Detroit Red Wings, will host Polak and the Maple Leafs (22-20-3) on Saturday at 6 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Gunnarsson has played in only 27 games for the Blues, first missing seven games recovering from off-season hip surgery and then 10 more games after sustaining a  concussion Dec. 6 against the New York Islanders.

Gunnarsson has one goal and six points playing in a top-four role mostly with Kevin Shattenkirk. He spent the first five seasons of his NHL career with the Maple Leafs, where he had 15 goals and 86 points in 306 regular season games.

"This has been quite a season for him because he came in hurt, got healthy, played very well, got hurt and then played well again, so he's had two stops and starts to the season," Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson. "When he's been healthy, he's been a good player for us. He's what we need, a puck-moving guy, a guy that transitions the puck well, a guy that sees the ice with Shatty. We just are starting to get to know him because we haven't seen enough of him. 

"He's missed quite a bit of hockey. He was slow coming back from the injury, them got going, got going real good and when he got the concussion, he came back and he seems like he's picking up speed now. For us, the best is yet to come, but he's been the element that if we see what he does top-end wise, this is the element that we need on our team from a top-four standpoint. We gave up a good player, but we really needed a strong transitional player, a guy that can see the ice, a guy that can make plays. When he's healthy, that's the element that he's brought to us."

Polak, who has a career-high five goals to go with three assists in 35 games, spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Blues, where he had 13 goals and 79 points in 424 regular season games.

Saturday will be the first matchup against their former teams, and needless to say, there will be an edge.

"For both guys," Hitchcock said. "That's just the competitive nature of our sport, that's the competitive nature of guys. They want to do well. 

"'Gunny' will want to do well, Roman's going to want to do well. I don't think Toronto played that well without Roman there when he was hurt (ankle injury), and we missed having Gunnarsson in there. When he's been out, it's been a little bit of a scramble for us."

* Lindstrom remains in lineup, Jaskin expected to play -- Blues right wing Joakim Lindstrom, who was a healthy scratch for six straight games and eight of nine, returned to play 10 minutes, 2 seconds in the loss to Detroit. He will remain in the lineup against Toronto, and Dmitrij Jaskin, who Lindstrom replaced Thursday, is expected to play. That means Hitchcock is mulling removing someone else from the lineup -- a healthy scratch -- if both play.

Even though Lindstrom didn't register a point, Hitchcock liked his game in limited minutes. Lindstrom has six points in 29 games.

"Lindy was real good yesterday, he was really solid," Hitchcock said. "He was quick, he was more and more composed with the puck, he skated with the puck in the offensive zone. I thought as the game went on, he got better and better, had three scoring chances. The line was good, he was good, gave us good speed, good jump, exactly what we asked for.

"That's not been the issue with Lindy, it's, 'Can you back it up?' So we're going to put him in again (Saturday) and see if he can back it up."

Jaskin had played in 12 consecutive games since being recalled from the Chicago Wolves. He had three goals and three assists.

"Young guy. We're probably going to play him tomorrow," Hitchcock said of Jaskin. "Young guy and still on the learning curve. It's not on the learning curve of what they do on the ice. It's the mental wear and tear of having to be an every-shift, everyday, all-the-time player. I think for young people wears (on them). 

"If we have a chance with him to hit reset, we do it because we know we're going to get four or five games where we're going to get a real solid player. We've got enough veteran depth to hit the reset button, especially with the way Lindy played yesterday. We really liked him."

Both players have taken turns playing with a line centered by Paul Stastny with Patrik Berglund on the wing. 

"Yeah. I think it matters who we play there," Hitchcock said. "We've kind of wanted to have three lines that are a threat to score. That's kind of the plan. When we're on the mark, we can be devastating to play against, but quite frankly, we haven't been on the mark the last two or three games. We've been in and out. One line's done it, two lines have done it, we haven't gotten to that three-line deal which we had going for about six or seven games where three lines were just a threat every shift, all the time, just wore you down. We haven't been there yet. We're a little bit in and out right now."

* Detroit aftermath -- What did Hitchcock think after watching film on the game Thursday?

Some good and some bad.

Obviously, the good was rallying from a 2-0 third-period deficit to gain at least a point. The bad was giving up a pair of late second-period goals, and obviously Pavel Datsyuk's overtime goal with 2.2 seconds remaining.

"There's some good stuff and stuff that we need to get better at," he said. "You play a team like Detroit that's a consistent, competitive team every shift, it's a good challenge. I thought there were some real ebbs and flows. I though the first half of the game was a feeling out process, not knowing a lot about each other and then the second half, really got going. They gave us a push and then we gave them a push. I think there's a lot of good lessons on both sides."

* Notes -- Brian Elliott, who made 21 saves Thursday, will  get the start in goal against Toronto. ... Alexander Steen, who scored with 47.6 seconds remaining to tie the game Thursday, extended his point streak to eight games (six goals, eight assists). ... Jaden Schwartz had his eight-game point streak end Thursday. He had six goals and six assists. ... David Backes extended his point streak to five games (seven goals, four assists) with a goal Thursday. ... Vladimir Tarasenko extended his point streak to four games (two goals, four assists) with an assist Thursday. He has a point in eight of 10 games (four goals, six assists).

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