Saturday, January 17, 2015

(1-17-15) Maple Leafs-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- When teams consummate a trade, the thought is that teams are hopeful that it will work out for both teams.

In the case of the Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs, it appears -- at least at the outset -- that both teams are satisfied with the trade that sent defenseman Roman Polak to Toronto for fellow defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and a 2014 fourth-round pick, which the Blues used to select Finnish goalie Ville Husso. The trade was completed at the 2014 NHL Draft.

The trade will come full circle Saturday when the Maple Leafs (22-20-3) end a four-game trip against the Blues (27-13-4) at 6 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

For Gunnarsson, who spent the first five seasons of his NHL career with Toronto and had 15 goals and 86 points in 306 regular-season games, he's getting into the swing of things with his new team.

Gunnarsson, 28, has missed two separate stints totaling 17 games with the Blues. He missed seven at the start of the season recovering from off-season hip surgery, then missed 10 games after sustaining a concussion Dec. 6 against the New York Islanders.

"I don't think the surroundings or system's been the problem," said Gunnarsson, who has one goal and six points in 27 games with St. Louis. "I think it's been me coming back and coming back from injuries, being in game shape. It now feels good from the concussion to come back for whatever games we've played and it's been good."

For the 28-year-old Polak, who spent the first eight seasons of his NHL career with St. Louis and had 13 goals and 79 points in 424 games, he's established a career-high in goals (five) and gets to play a more prominent role with the Maple Leafs playing on the first and second defensive unit. In St. Louis, he was regularly on the third unit.

"I can join the rush a little bit," said Polak, who missed 10 games with an ankle injury. "Actually, all the goals I scored was from joining the rush.

"It's kind of weird feeling being on the other side of the rink. It's the first time for me here, [eight] years to be on the other side. It's different, but it's going to be an exciting game tonight."

Most players tend to downplay the revenge factor and that they get a little more juice to face the team that traded them. Deep down, it matters.

"Sure, but we look at it like any other game and not get too emotional about it," Gunnarsson said. "Just try and play your game, go out there and after 60 minutes, hope you have those two points. It's going to be special, so you try and get that out of your head a little bit."

Gunnarsson said he got to spend some time with some of his former Leafs teammates. Polak, on the other hand, not so much, even though he has a plethora of friends among the Blues.

He joked, "I tried to, but I guess the guys don't like me anymore. Everybody was busy. I don't know what's going on there."

Polak's former Blues teammates are thrilled to see him back again, but admit it will be different.

"The guy's a beast. He's a close friend on the team here,"  former D-partner Barret Jackman said. "We had a lot of fun together. it's going to be tough seeing him in a Maple Leafs jersey with that heavy shot coming towards me instead of away from me.

"I can speak from (Toronto's) perspective. I know Roman is unbelievable. You know exactly what you're going to get from him every night. He's big, strong, physical on the ice. He's actually got pretty quick feet for a big man. Carl adds a little different dynamic. He's really good at eluding checks. He's been really good for Shatty as well."

David Backes was one of Polak's closest friends here in St. Louis.

"Romy's a good friend of mine. It's tough not to have his character in the room," Backes said. "We'll get a chance to run each other over a couple times, I'm sure.

"You're good friends, but once you're on opposite teams, you're going to lay it all on the line and there's a little bragging rights on the line too. Good, clean, hard battle on the line and we'll shake hands afterwards. ... We've fired it up (at practice before). He's an ox of a man. I've tried to hold my own, too."

Gunnarsson was back on familiar ground with media attention Saturday. He joked that it's an element that he "missed."

"I can probably count the interviews on one hand since I got here," he joked. "That's been the biggest difference.

"It's going to be a little bit different, I guess, but I try to see it as any other game. It's is going to be a little bit weird being on the other side of former teammates and guys that have been there as long as I was. I'll just try to forget about that and play your game."

- - -

Polak, who was best friends with Vladimir Sobotka, talks with Sobotka on a regular basis, whether texts, Skype or Facebook.

Polak said Sobotka loves it in the Kontinental Hockey League, where he's playing for Avangard Omsk.

"Sobe's doing pretty good. He's happy there. He's happy in the KHL," Polak said. I talk to him once in a while. He's happy."

Sobotka has eight goals and 36 points in 48 games. He signed a four-year contract to play in the KHL after rejecting the Blues' arbitration offer of one year and $2.7 million.

Sobotka, who has hinted through reports that a return to the NHL is something he desires, was confirmed by Polak. 

"I hope so, we still talking about it," Polak said. "... All the time here, he was like an underrated player. Basically we talk every week chatting on the messages, Facebook, Skype, whatever. We're still in touch."

However, Polak didn't want to talk about whether Sobotka would return to the Blues, which leads one to believe that he wouldn't. But the Blues own his NHL rights until he completes his arbitration contract.

- - -

T.J. Oshie, who did not participate in the morning skate, will play, according to coach Ken Hitchcock. 

Oshie blocked a shot in a 4-2 victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday and played Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings despite being questionable. 

Dmitrij Jaskin, who Hitchcock hinted on Friday might play, looks like the odd player out.

Alexander Steen, a former Maple Leaf, is riding a career-best eight-game point streak (six goals, eight assists). Backes is on a five-game point streak (seven goals, four assists). Backes had a hat trick in the teams' last meeting, a 5-3 Blues victory last season.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Joakim Lindstrom-Paul Stastny-Patrik Berglund

Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Ian Cole

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Dmitrij Jaskin, Chris Butler and Martin Brodeur. Chris Porter (ankle) is on injured reserve and out indefinitely.

- - -

The Maple Leafs' projected lineup:

Daniel Winnik-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel

James van Riemsdyk-Nazem Kadri-Mike Santorelli

Richard Panik-Trevor Smith-David Clarkson

Matt Frattin-Sam Carrick-David Booth

Dion Phaneuf-Cody Franson

Morgan Rielly-Roman Polak

Jake Gardiner-Stephane Robidas

Jonathan Bernier will start in goal. James Reimer will be the backup.

The healthy scratch will be Korbinian Holzer and Troy Bodie. Joffrey Lupul (lower body), Peter Holland (upper body) and Leo Komarov (upper body) are out with injuries.

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