By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues hope a boost in the lineup, and on the power play, will come in the form of Pat Maroon, who was activated off injured reserve after missing the past four games with an upper-body injury.
Maroon will be in the lineup when the Blues (7-10-3) play the second of a home-and-home with the Nashville Predators (16-5-1) today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
"It's good to be back," said Maroon, in search of his first goal with his hometown Blues. "Got to go out there and try to find my game here. It's been a rough start for me. Have to find ways to go out and have fun again and just enjoy the game and be myself."
Maroon was injured in a 1-0 loss at Chicago on Nov. 14.
"I just think late in the third, something happened and it didn't feel right," said Maroon, who has seven assists in 14 games. "After the game, I didn't feel right in the morning. I got a little rehab and worked on it and I feel pretty good now.
"I'm excited to get back. It's been a frustrating start to the season for myself. I think I owe a lot more to this team and I can bring a lot more to this team. I'm excited to get back in. It's like a restart button for me. I feel energized, I feel refreshed and I'm ready to go."
Maroon can certainly give a suddenly struggling power play a boost. The Blues are 0-for-21 going back the past eight games and have not scored in seven straight after scoring 15 man-advantage goals the first 13 games.
"Pat's a big body guy and he's been good on the power play for us this year," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We need some bigger bodies to get to the net offensively. Getting some dirty goals around there.
"... I just think right now, we're getting looks on the power play and we get chances, we're just not executing. It's not going in. Power plays go through this a little bit, but I think we can do a better job of getting more pucks there with more traffic."
Six of Maroon's seven points have come with the man advantage.
"He's in front of the net for us right now and if you want to get pucks to the net, there's no other guy you'd rather have than him," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of Maroon. "He can make plays. When he's there, you've got to use him."
To make room for Maroon, the Blues put left wing Jaden Schwartz on IR. Schwartz has missed the past three games with an upper-body injury after being hit by a Vladimir Tarasenko shot on the hand Nov. 16 at Vegas. Schwartz would be eligible to come off at any point.
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The second of home-and-home games, especially against divisional opponents, certainly get the fans riled up and emotional along with the players, but don't tell the players they get easy.
The Blues and Predators will do this again later on in the season, and after Nashville won the game Wednesday, 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena, the Blues may be a bit more amped up to try and win considering they've lost three in a row and five of six.
"I think it creates a good environment, especially when it's a division rival like this," Pietrangelo said. "It's easier on the pre-scout too. It's fresh on your mind. Coming off that game [Wednesday], I think we've got some unfinished business."
Players have been a part of these before, but the NHL has not gone with these sets of games often in recent memory, unlike the days of past when they were quite common.
"I guess we did it a lot in Edmonton against Calgary. It got ugly," Maroon said. "The first game, kind of mix it up, the second game got a little more tense. I'm assuming tonight will be a fun game to play. These are points that need to be had. I think this is a good opportunity for us to come in and just give these fans what they want, make it a hard building for teams to come in and play. It's been very quiet for us. Hopefully we find ways to get back to that."
Berube, who played 1,054 NHL games and racked up 3,149 penalty minutes in his career, enjoyed them.
"It was always fun," Berube said. "The rivalries and things like ... playing a team not back to back, but back to back ... there was animosity in that game. I expect a physical game. I expect a hard game tonight."
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Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo skated today for the first time with teammates.
Bortuzzo has missed the past 13 games with a lower-body injury and has not played since Oct. 20 in a 4-1 win at Toronto.
"Hard to say," Bortuzzo said of a possible return. "Just happy to be out there with the guys. It was exciting to be out there. There was definitely good energy out there so hopefully that carries over to tonight."
Bortuzzo had been skating on his own, including last week when the team was on its three-game trip to Chicago, Vegas and San Jose.
"When the guys were in San Jose and Las Vegas, (former Blue) Jamie Rivers came out and put me through some paces," Bortuzzo said. "Just to be on the ice and work the hands, see if I remember how to stick-handle. It's fun to get out there with the guys.
"No timetable. Just taking it day by day here. We want to be smart about things so we put things behind us."
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Speaking of Tarasenko, he has 10 points (four goals, six assists) the past 12 games, which is good, but the Blues' top goal scorer the past six seasons has not scored in nine straight, which is the most since a 16-game drought the last 15 games of his rookie season in 2012-13 and season-opener in 2013-14.
"Vladi's got to go out and get to the net more, get involved more," Berube said. "A lot of times for a goal scorer, the puck's not going in the net, you've got to come out of your comfort zone a little bit and do different things. That's the conversations I had with him.
"I feel like he's working really hard, I feel like he's doing a lot of good stuff. He's getting the shots. Again, people can do a better job of getting to the goalie and screening the goalie on his shot. Also, Vladi can do a better job of getting to the net himself."
Or perhaps get his shot off quicker, even of the one-timer variety.
"I want him to shoot it quick. Don't stick handle, don't dust it off, bang, shoot it quick, shoot it quick, shoot it quick," Berube said. "Sometimes they want to look for too good of a shot and just not quickness. Just get it off quick a lot of times. Don't let the goalie get set. Don't let the defensemen get set and get in front of the shot and block it. Just looking to get it off quickly."
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Blues forward Alexander Steen (upper body) skated but will not play and will miss his fifth straight game. Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) did not practice and will miss his fourth straight game.
Forward Nikita Soshnikov will be a healthy scratch.
Goalie Jake Allen will get the start and will oppose Nashville's Juuse Saros. Allen has stopped 105 of the past 111 shots faced his past four starts, good for a .946 save percentage but is 1-3-0 in those games.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Brayden Schenn-Robert Thomas
David Perron-Tyler Bozak-Pat Maroon
Sammy Blais-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist
Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Jay Bouwmeester-Jordan Schmaltz
Jake Allen will start in goal; Chad Johnson will be the backup.
The healthy scratch will be Nikita Soshnikov. Jaden Schwartz (upper body), Robert Bortuzzo (lower body), Alexander Steen (upper body) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) are all out.
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The Predators' projected lineup:
Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Kevin Fiala
Calle Jarnkrok-Kyle Turris-Ryan Hartman
Colton Sissons-Nick Bonino-Craig Smith
Miikka Salomaki-Frederick Gaudreau-Austin Watson
Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis
Dan Hamhuis-Mattias Ekholm
Anthony Bitetto-Yannick Weber
Juuse Saros will start in goal; Pekka Rinne will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Matt Irwin and Zac Rinaldo. Viktor Arvidsson (thumb) and P.K. Subban (upper body) are out.