By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Carl Gunnarsson has missed games with the Blues the past two seasons for various injuries but never because of being a healthy scratch.
Gunnarsson was in the pres box of the Blues' season-opening 5-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center, a surprise to some, including Gunnarsson.
"I guess that's what it is, a healthy competition is what you call it, right," Gunnarsson said. "Just got to prove yourself every day here.
"Yeah, the way it's been going the last few weeks in practice and all that and how the lineup's been, yeah, I was a little surprised, but you've got to deal with that and I get my shot here."
Gunnarsson will have the chance to do that tonight, taking the spot of Robert Bortuzzo, when the Blues (1-0-0) turn around 24 hours later for their home opener against the Minnesota Wild (7 p.m., FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
"It's no fun to be up top, but I'll get the chance here tonight so it's going to be fun, especially being at home," Gunnarsson said.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Gunnarsson was out because of "mostly on Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo earned the right to start the season. He came in as the seventh, earned the right through his play in exhibition, wanted to give him a little reward and get him in Game 1."
As far as rotating in the seven defensemen, Hitchcock said that won't be the norm.
"No. We'll make a decision on Saturday and we'll stay pretty firm on that decision," Hitchcock said. "We're going to give everybody a chance, make a couple, three changes today, we'll give everybody a chance in the first three games, but when we settle in, we're going to settle in."
Also making his season debut tonight will be left wing Magnus Paajarvi, who will move in place of Dmitrij Jaskin.
"Just want to see who grabs the spot," Hitchcock said. "There wasn't really anybody standing out, sticking out, everybody had their go at things, so he gets his turn and whoever grabs it in the next two or three games will get it."
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Tonight marks the first time Blues associate coach Mike Yeo will go up against the Wild, who fired him as head coach.
Yeo, who was fired on Feb. 13, was hired as the heir apparent to Hitchcock and replace the veteran Blues coach beginning in 2017-18.
Yeo went 173-132-44 in four-plus seasons with the Wild, but he was let go after a 1-13 streak.
"I would be a liar if I said that I wasn’t aware of that game as soon as the schedule came out," Yeo said. "I think the fact that it was going to be a home opener was going to make it exciting enough, but then to have it be your former team, I think, adds a little more to the rivalry and to the excitement level.
"... You pour your heart and soul into something, and all of the sudden it’s gone, for sure there's going to be a lot of emotion. Once that sting wore off and I had a chance to reflect and look back on it, I just have nothing but great memories now and gratitude."
It will also mark the first time assistant coach Rick Wilson, who was in Minnesota last season, goes against the Wild.
Scott Stevens, who played one season in St. Louis (1990-91), will make his debut as a Wild assistant coach. The Blues had interest in bringing Stevens here before he chose to go to Minnesota to be on Bruce Boudreau's staff.
Boudreau will make his Wild coaching debut.
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It will also be the home debut for Blues right wing Nail Yakupov, who debuted for the Blues Wednesday in Chicago.
Yakupov got 10 minutes, 37 seconds of ice time and didn't register a point playing on a line with Patrik Berglund and Jaskin but Hitchcock was impressed.
"You know what? Much better defensively than I thought," Hitchcock said. "He's got great outside speed. I think the line, chemistry is an interesting thing. They've had one hockey practice together and basically having to play.
"I think we've got a lot of work in progress there. What I liked more than anything was his conscience. His conscience was there. We're not trying to overwhelm him by having him do a bunch of things. We're just going to keep it five on five for the first week to 10 days and see how much he can absorb there. I liked some stuff. He created three chances, he's dynamic with outside speed and I think if we can find a combination in that line we can have a good line there."
Yakupov is learning the ropes after being traded to the Blues from the Edmonton Oilers on Friday; he got in two practices and then a game.
"I was a little nervous for a couple shifts and it wasn't an easy game for the whole 60 minutes, but a couple good shifts kind of gets you going," Yakupov said. "Overall, it was good, as a team we got two points so everything's fine.
"I have a coach and we have assistant coaches and we have a team, so we work as a team. Anything (they) want me to do, I'll do it, right? My job is to work hard, it doesn't matter where and when and how. I've just got to do my job, just play hockey and enjoy the game."
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The Blues were busy on trying to win their own game but got all the hubbub about the debut of Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews, who set a modern day record by scoring four goals in his NHL debut.
"I thought Kris Letang put it best, 'Welcome to the beer league.' It's like, holy, he's a man. He's not a young player. He's a young player age wise but he certainly doesn't play like a young player. He doesn't look like a young player on the ice. He knocked over men to create scoring chances. He knocked over 230-pound men to create scoring chances. It's very, very impressive."
Hitchcock said it's not often to see anyone make a debut in the league like that.
"Maybe two or three times," he said. "(Mark) Messier after his first year in the WHA. Mark went to another level. He went into the WHA at 17, played that one year and then his second year in the WHA was a man among boys and he was 18 years of age. That's the only time I've seen something like that."
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What did the Blues learn from their opener?
Well for starters, the power play was good. It's the first time they've scored three or more power play goals in the first game of the season since scoring four against Detroit on Jan. 19, 2013, the strike-shortened season.
The Blues were 3-for-5 on the power play, getting goals from Kevin Shattenkirk, Vladimir Tarasenko and Paul Stastny, who each got three points last night.
"Our power play was good. Even when we didn't score we were good," Hitchcock said. "I liked as the game went on I liked our 5-on-5 play. It went better as the game went on. We managed, for the first game in a really tough building in a tough atmosphere, we really did a good job in managing the puck. By doing it that way, even when the game was tied or when we were down a goal, we weren't playing careless or reckless with the puck. I thought we started to build good minutes. The first period for me was even then we really started to build good minutes in the second which I think gave us an advantage. They took penalties on us because we were sustained in the offensive zone and it helped us a lot.
"It's a step. The strength of our team has got to be the back-end. They've got to carry the mail for us on a daily basis so we can get other people up to speed. They did their job. They didn't allow us to spend time in their zone early and we didn't allow them later on. I thought we were able to exit the puck, we were able to win some one on ones, we got some plays killed in our own zone very efficiently. I thought that was the impact of the game, we didn't have sustained D-zone coverage or D-zone time because our defensemen did the job that we've worked on since Day 1 of training camp."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen
David Perron-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin. Jaden Schwartz (elbow) is on injured-reserve.
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The Wild's projected lineup:
Zach Parise-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle
Mikael Granlund-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville
Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Chris Stewart
Jason Zucker-Zac Dalpe-Teemu Pulkkinen
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba
Mike Reilly-Jonas Brodin
Devan Dubnyk will start in goal; Darcy Kuemper will be the backup.
Christian Folin and Nate Prosser are healthy scratches.