DALLAS • Down several bodies, having already played the defending Central Division champ (Nashville) and reigning Presidents’ Trophy winner (Tampa Bay) this week, the Blues close out a three-game road swing tonight against the hottest team in the league.
The Dallas Stars (15-9-2) came within an inch or two of ousting St. Louis from the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. Nothing they do tonight will change that but they’d definitely like to put the Blues (15-5-6) in their place in a 7:30 p.m. contest at American Airlines Center.
“They’re a veteran team for sure through their lineup,” Craig Berube said following the Blues’ optional skate Friday. “They know how to play.
“They play a heavy game. They’re very good at both ends of the ice. They’re a 200-foot team, that’s the way I look at it. They defend well. Their goaltending’s strong and they’ve got good offensive players. They can put the puck in the net. They’re a good-sized team, too.”
Which sounds pretty much like the complete package for the Stars.
“It’s gonna be a tough game,” Berube said. “We gotta be highly competitive tonight. We gotta do a real good job with the puck. We gotta be patient. We’re not gonna get a lot (of chances) playing these guys, we gotta be patient. Make the most of your chances.”
GUNNARSSON OUT, POULIOT IN
After losing Oskar Sundqvist to a foot/ankle injury Wednesday, the Blues will be down another Swede tonight. Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who has been ill, won’t play.
“He’s under the weather still,” Berube said.
Making his Blues debut in his place will be Derrick Pouliot who was called up Monday from San Antonio along with Nathan Walker.
“He’s an experienced guy,” Berbue said of Pouliot, who played 144 games over the past two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. “Good puck mover. He can move the puck, make plays. He’s an offensive-type defenseman. He can skate, too. So it’s a good chance for him, too. He’s played well down in the minors.”
When he was called up, Pouliot had the most points of any AHL defenseman, with four goals and 14 assists for the Rampage.
With Sundqvist out, Nathan Walker will make his Blues debut tonight on the fourth line. Walker is from Sydney, Australia and his parents will be watching from Down Under in a game that starts at 12:30 p.m. Saturday -- Sydney time.
In terms of Blues experience, Mackenzie MacEachern is now the senior member of a fourth line that includes Jacob de la Rose – and now Walker.
“I played a couple games with (Walker) in preseason,” MacEachern said. “He’s small but he’s still really physical, a really fast player. He obviously has the ability to score judging off his start in San Antonio.
“I liked playing with him the first couple games in preseason, so hopefully we can build off that.”
ALLEN IN GOAL
Tonight marks the front end of the Blues’ fourth set of back-to-back games this season. They play Pittsburgh at home on Saturday. Berube is going with Jake Allen in goal against the Stars.
“It’s just the schedule we talked about, and planned it out,” Berube said. “He was gonna play tonight. That was just the schedule. He’s done a good job. He’s played well for us this year and played well for us on the road.”
Allen actually has better regular-season numbers against the Stars over his career than Binnington. He’s 8-5, with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. Binnington is 2-2-0 against the Stars in the regular season, with 2.56 GAA and .895 save percentage.
Dallas Stars coach Jim Montgomery doesn’t hide the fact that this is a big game for the red-hot Stars, who with 32 points trail the Blues by only four points in the Central Division.
“St. Louis ended our season last year,” Montgomery said. “They’re the defending Stanley Cup champs, they’re a great team, and we want to see how we measure up.
“We want to be aggressive. We want to put them on their heels. And we want to spend a lot of time in their end. A big part of our game is transition offense. We gotta continue to play fast.”
Montgomery sees the same style of play from the Blues that he saw in the Western Conference semifinals last season, when the Blues knocked out the Stars in seven games.
The Blues, Montgomery said, are “a team that is gonna put pucks to the goal line. They’re gonna forecheck. They’re gonna possess pucks. They’re gonna use the whole offensive zone against you.
“So you have to be really good at breaking pucks out. You have to be really good at your own end. And you gotta make them defend.”
MacEachern-de la Rose-Walker
DALLAS PROJECTED LINEUP
(Per @MDeFranks, Dallas Morning News)
Five of Brayden Schenn’s last seven goals have come on the power play. For the season, his six power play goals are tied for sixth in the NHL.
• The Blues were on target Wednesday in Tampa. They had only four shots blocked and four missed shots - the lowest combined total of errant shots (eight) this season. They had 33 shots on goal.
• Forward Austin Poganski, called up from San Antonio on Thanksgiving, skated with the Blues during Friday’s optional practice.