DALLAS - Carl Gunnarsson will make his Blues debut tonight in Dallas, where the team will face off with the Dallas Stars at 7:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center (FOX Sports Midwest, KMOX 1120 AM).
Gunnarsson has been rehabbing a hip injury sustained last season and was medically cleared to play recently. The injury required a six-month recovery period, so it’s been awhile since he’s seen game action.
“Usually you get a couple exhibition games in and it takes a couple of games to get in that 100 percent mode,” Gunnarsson said. “I guess I’ve got to work on stuff to get it back quicker than usual, but whatever it takes. It’s just something you’ve got to get in the fire, burn yourself a little bit. That’s how you get used to it.”
Gunnarsson describes himself as an all-around player. Nothing flashy, more defense than offense. He’s been getting a good look at the Blues’ system from the press box, trying to get a feel for how he needs to fit in.
“Whenever I’ve been watching games, it’s been figuring out the (penalty kill), whatever system we’re doing, breakouts and all that. It’s a good way to try to learn,” Gunnarsson said. “That’s the only thing you can do from up top. I’ve been trying to pick stuff up. …But it’s another thing to execute it on the ice at game tempo, too. I just have to get in there. It’s hockey. Just relax, play your game, stick to the system. Don’t overthink stuff.”
Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said Gunnarsson would start on the third defensive pairing tonight, with the hope that after a few games, he moves up to the second pairing.
“He’s a smart player,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t think he’s overwhelmed by this. He just wants to get playing. We’ll monitor his minutes and we expect to get good 5-on-5 minutes. I don’t think we’ll use him killing penalties yet, but we’ll see how he looks.”
Steve Ott is no stranger to the Dallas area. He was drafted by the Stars in 2000 and spent ten seasons there before moving on to Buffalo and eventually St. Louis.
“It’s emotional every time you play a team you grow up with,” Ott said. “I came into (the Stars) organization as a teenager and overnight, grew into a man being there. Obviously, Dallas holds a big piece of my heart in the sense of growing up, being a part of that organization and being treated so well by the fans and the community.
“But as soon as that puck drops, I know where my priorities stand.”
Ott has played in four regular season games against the Stars, three of which came after coming to the Blues via trade last February. Tonight is just his second regular season visit to American Airlines Center as an opposing player. He has 109 points (44 goals, 65 assists) in 284 career games in the Stars' building.
“Going into preseason this year and getting a few boo birds, it definitely felt pretty good," Ott said. "Hopefully I can rile them back up. If all those cheers over all the years turn into boos now, that’s completely fine.”
The Stars (4-2-2) are coming off a 7-5 loss Saturday against the New York Islanders, but before that, collected points in five consecutive games.
Tyler Seguin leads the team with 13 points in eight games (six goals, seven assists). Newly-acquired Jason Spezza (11 points) and Jamie Benn (10 points) are a close second and third, respectively.
“They play with tempo. They play fast offensively,” Hitchcock said. “I think our puck management, if we play and control the puck the same way we did against Chicago, I think we’ll play really well. You don’t want to be trying lateral plays when you have the dynamics they have on their first two lines.”
The Stars rank fourth in the league in goals for with 28, but also rank 26th in goals against with 28.
Paul Stastny (upper-body) skated with the team Monday and again today in Dallas, even taking a few face offs in practice. Hitchcock said he hopes Stastny will be a full practice participant at the end of this week.
Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan Reaves didn’t participate in Monday’s practice due to the illness circulating through the team, but both made the trip to Dallas. Hitchcock said they are feeling better, and both will be in the lineup tonight.
T.J. Oshie has two goals and two assists in his last four games against the Stars. Alex Pietrangelo has one goal and eight assists in his last 10 games vs. Dallas.