ST. LOUIS - Carl Gunnarsson meets his former team for the first time since being traded to the Blues when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to Scottrade Center for a 6 p.m. face off tonight (FSMW, KMOX).
Gunnarsson, who spent five seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, is looking forward to tonight’s game but insists it won’t be too big of a deal.
“It’s going to be a little bit different I guess, but I try to see it as any other game,” Gunnarsson said after the morning skate. “It’s going to be a little bit weird being on the other side of former teammates. You just try to forget about that and play your game.”
Gunnarsson was acquired by the Blues at the 2014 NHL Draft in exchange for defenseman Roman Polak. Both players have missed time with injuries this season. Gunnarsson started the season late after offseason hip surgery, then sustained a concussion in December. Polak missed a handful of games with a lower-body injury he sustained in November.
“It’s a good trade, but I don’t think both teams will see the full value until both players are healthy,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “Polak has a certain element that unnerves the opposition, and Gunnarsson has an element that really makes him a good partner for (Kevin) Shattenkirk, and we needed that type of partner for Shatty.
“We loved (Roman) here, and we loved the element (he brought). But it’s what you’ve got to give to get the element that we were missing on our team.”
Added Shattenkirk, “(Gunnarsson) brings a lot. He makes it easy for a guy like me to feel comfortable jumping in the rush. We found a little chemistry together when moving the puck. I think in our defensive zone, he’s a calming presence. He’s someone who is poised when he gets the puck and when he doesn’t have it, he’s always in good position and ends plays quickly. For someone like me, that allows me to jump up on the rush sooner and have the energy to do it.”
Gunnarsson has played in 27 games for the Blues this season, scoring one goal and six assists. He also has a +9 rating.
Polak spent his first eight seasons with the Blues and ranks ninth in club history among games played by a defenseman (424).
Despite playing in 304 games for the Maple Leafs, Gunnarsson said he won’t be too emotional about tonight’s game.
“Just play your game, go out there and after 60 minutes, hopefully you have those two points,” he said. “It’s going to be special, but you’ve got to get that out of your head a little bit.”
FACING THE LEAFS
The Blues have won two consecutive games against Toronto and have points in seven straight meetings dating back to Jan. 29, 2008.
The Maple Leafs recently made a change behind the bench, replacing Head Coach Randy Carlyle with Interim Coach Peter Horachek. In four games since, Toronto is 1-3-0, most recently falling 3-1 to the Sharks on Thursday. Toronto is 22-20-3 overall and currently out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Despite that, the Maple Leafs have some high-end skill that can make you pay, and Hitchcock said the Blues have to be ready for that.
“I think it’s like anything else, when you play against a team that has top-end skill, you just don’t want to give them odd-man rushes. They do more damage off the rush than most teams. We want to make them earn their chances and not get into a track meet like (their) third period was in San Jose. We want to avoid that. They’re dynamic, they make plays.”
Phil Kessel leads the team with 19 goals and 24 assists (43 points) this season. James Van Riemsdyk (40 points) and Tyler Bozak (32 points) round out the top three in scoring for Toronto.
Tonight is the Blues’ fifth game of a season-long seven-game home stand. The Blues are 3-0-1 so far and have won 11 of the last 14 games at home.
With a win tonight, Ken Hitchcock would pass former Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn for fifth on the NHL’s all-time regular season wins list. Hitchcock tied Quinn with Tuesday’s victory against Edmonton.
Former Maple Leaf Alexander Steen has four goals and three assists in five career games against Toronto.
Brian Elliott will start in goal.
Fans traveling to tonight’s game should be aware of the I-44/55 closures downtown. You can find suggested alternate routes at MoDOT’s website by clicking here.