By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's not the ideal start to a season, but the Blues (2-3-3) will hope to take advantage of a big opportunity when they open a season-long seven-game homestand beginning today against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) at Enterprise Center.
The Blues have not had a seven-game homestand since Jan. 8-30, 2015 when they went 6-0-1 in that run, and a similar run might be just what the doctor ordered for a team that has been close in a number of games but allowed a number of them to slip away, particularly in the third period.
"I think you have to get a little bit of swagger back," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "At home, seven games, good opportunity to get a lot of points, start putting some in the bank and obviously making sure we take care of home ice."
The Blues are 1-2-1 on home ice, and when this seven-game stretch is done, they will have gone through more than 25 percent of their home schedule for the season, so jumping on this will be imperative.
"I just look at tonight, that's what we have to do," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "Obviously at the end of it, we want to say we took advantage of this homestand. Playing in front of our crowd, having the last change, all of these things, they can definitely be beneficial. We have to make sure that we continue to build.
"We didn't get the win, but getting three out of four points against the two teams we played was pretty good. We should have had four, we should have had five out of six points, maybe even six out of six points, but more importantly our game is starting to look right and it's starting to look right for longer periods of time. If we continue to do that, through this homestand, then we'll like the result."
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The Blues will get center Oskar Sundqvist back in the lineup, and he will make his season debut centering the fourth line with Ivan Barbashev and Jordan Kyrou.
Sundqvist is coming off a third concussion when he was blasted with a hit during a preseason game on Sept. 30 against the Washington Capitals that netted Tom Wilson a 20-game suspension.
"Yeah, I feel good enough to start playing," Sundqvist said. "I'm really excited to be back out on the ice.
"... Everything is good. Just excited to get out there tonight and play hockey again."
Sundqvist has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 70 NHL games, including a goal and five assists in 42 games with the Blues.
He will go in tonight instead of rookie Robert Thomas, who will be a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game.
"He had a really good camp," Yeo said of Sundqvist. "A really tough injury, obviously, but he had a really strong training camp for us. For me, last year was his first year in the league, spending the majority of the year in the league. Another young guy for us coming in. To me, what he looked like in training camp this year, one, he looked like he was faster, and No. 2, he looked like he was ready to take another step as a player. Sort of the evolution of a young player. He looked like he was ready to really come in and demand a spot.
"I look at last year, I look at 'Sunny's game, he was a really valuable player for us and really effective player for us, playing as high as our third line. Early in the season, we were winning games, he wasn't creating offense but he was helping us to win games, helping us to close games, obviously has been an issue for us so far. His penalty killing, his defensive play. He wasn't scoring goals, our team stopped scoring goals so we were forced with the decision to take him out of the lineup and the rest of his season wasn't the same. Real responsible player, really good playing against any player defensively, he's real solid, penalty kill wise he's real solid and I believe he's a guy that can help you close games but he does have more jump, more pace to his game and I think there's another step to his offensive game too."
As for Thomas, Yeo said it's coming. "We want to get him back in but we just felt today wasn't the day."
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Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson was assigned to San Antonio of the American Hockey League on a conditioning assignment.
Bortuzzo will be reevaluated in two weeks after having a series of tests on an injury that Yeo said Wednesday is something that popped up during training camp.
"I would say the appointment was fairly encouraging," Yeo said. "We'll give him a couple weeks here and hopefully things flare down a little bit. He's feeling better so we'll re-evaluate after that."
For the time being, there is no surgery imminent.
"Not right now," Yeo said. "I'm not real good with the medical readings and all that kind of stuff, but the information I've got right now is he won't need surgery and we'll get him back. We'll see how he reacts after a little bit of time off here."
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Parayko has had some time to digest and hopefully forget the costly mistake a week ago Wednesday made at Montreal with 11 seconds remaining that wound up costing the Blues at least a point, maybe two in a 3-2 loss.
Parayko was skating backwards in his zone along the boards and tried to whip a pass through the middle of the ice to partner Joel Edmundson but would up whiffing on it, the Canadiens picked up the puck and scored on Jake Allen in a game that should have went into overtime at that point.
But with the help of teammates and coaches, it's something a player has to get over fast.
"Yeah, pretty quickly," Parayko said. "Credit to my teammates, they helped me out obviously with that one. They were really good about it. That's probably one of the worst feelings I've had so far since I've been here. But that's just part of hockey, that's part of being a defenseman. You just learn to live with the mistake obviously. You want those points and that's the thing that killed me the most, where we're at in the season and how we were doing so far, just giving up one like that was tough obviously. But it still sticks with you. It still kinda sucks even now today, but we've played two games since then. When we're playing in a Game 7 or we're battling for a playoff spot or we're in the playoffs, it's not going to be hopefully that big of an issue and hopefully we can overcome it.
"... It almost happened the exact same way in Winnipeg actually on my goal. I got the puck and it flipped up on its side and I wanted to pass it over, so it was almost the exact same thing, which was kind of scary, but then I ended up getting it and taking a shot."
The puck was on edge, but with the play happening so quickly, Parayko said it's a play he makes 999 times out of 1,000.
"I knew it was spinning for sure, which obviously I should have ... you get those when they're spinning in practice and you still seem to be able to fire it over," he said. "It's just one of those things, where you grab it and it comes off. It's one of those where you shouldn't even have to look at your stick. It's just automatic. Obviously that time it must have just spun on my stick a little or something like that."
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Being a healthy scratch is something no player wants to endure, and defenseman Vince Dunn certainly took it to heart.
Dunn, who was scratched for games against Calgary on Oct. 11 and Chicago on Oct. 13, has returned and played four games since and seems to be getting his game back in order.
Dunn has two goals and an assist the past four games, including a goal and assist in Monday's 5-4 overtime loss at Winnipeg.
Has he been playing with a chip on his shoulder? Perhaps, but the second-year defenseman has learned that doing what you can control is all he can try to accomplish.
"I think obviously it's not easy watching from up top," Dunn said. "Not that I have any problems in here, but I really didn't understand why and I really didn't get a reason why. Sometimes you just don't at this age. I think it's just a part of the coaching process. Sometimes it's hard to get the message that maybe they're trying to get to you. When the team's not winning, there's going to be changes made. You hope that it's not you, but sometimes it might be. I didn't come with a chip on my shoulder and try to prove anyone wrong. More than anything, I just learned that I can control what I can control. Obviously if I'm in, I can control what I'm doing on the ice and if I'm not, I can't control getting myself back in any other way than just working hard and making sire I'm consistent. I think the biggest thing is just learning that this is a business and things might not happen the way you want it to, but just control what you can control. Right now by my game play, I think I'm just learning to stay within myself and not let any outside factors affect me.
"It's hard to kind of say how you handle it. Obviously it's not a good position either way when you're not playing. We have a competitive team and a competitive league. Anything can happen at any time. I think it's just learning that when you're in there, come in with a good attitude, be a young guy who can bring energy to the room and making sure that I'm doing my part as a young guy. Just control what you can control. What you're doing is what got you here. Don't try to think anything more, don't try to ask yourself questions when maybe there's not questions to be asked.
"I'm just trying to do me right now. I'm not trying to do other people's jobs or trying to wonder why things are happening the way they are or maybe why we're losing games. The bottom line is only I can do what I can do. If I can do that to the best I can, that'll give the team the best chance."
Dunn is getting the chance to play on the top pairing with Alex Pietrangelo, and although the minutes aren't where Pietrangelo's arem the two seem to complement each other well.
"That's amazing," Dunn said. "Having a guy like that, he's a leader in the dressing room, he's a leader on the ice. He's always talking to me, whether it's stuff at or away from the rink. It's just cool that I can have someone I can trust by me, someone that's been part of this organization and been a big piece over the last so many years. Not that we compete with each other out there, but we both have confidence in each other and I think we both push each other. I think he tries to get me better than I am. That's helping me."
Dunn is known as an offensive defenseman, but in order for him to get the trust of the coaching staff, being a defensive-minded player too will get him those minutes desired.
"That's what I'm embracing this year," Dunn said. "I'm not trying to put myself in positions that maybe might fire back. I'm trying to take advantage of the opportunities when I'm on the ice and making sure that obviously I can play defense too. Playing a simple, fats game, I think that's what Blues hockey is. We're not a fancy east-west team. We're a north team. We have great forwards too. If I can get the puck in their hands, the results will come my way too."
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Blues center Ryan O'Reilly has six points (two goals, four assists) during a three-game point streak and leads the team with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in eight games.
Blues right wing David Perron has nine points (five goals, four assists) in the past six games after starting the season with no points in two games.
The Blues will avoid Blue Jackets No. 1 goalie Sergei Bobrovsky tonight. Backup Joonas Korpisalo will make his third start of the season and first since Oct. 11.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Alexander Steen
Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Jordan Kyrou
Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Jay Bouwmeester-Jordan Schmaltz
Jake Allen will start in goal; Chad Johnson will be the backup.
Robert Thomas and Jakub Jerabek are the healthy scratches. Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) is out.
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The Blue Jackets' projected lineup:
Artemi Panarin-Pierre-Luc Dubois-Cam Atkinson
Oliver Bjorkstrand-Alexander Wennberg-Anthony Duclair
Boone Jenner-Nick Foligno-Josh Anderson
Lukas Sedlak-Riley Nash-Markus Hannikainen
Zach Werenski-Seth Jones
Ryan Murray-Markus Nutivaara
Scott Harrington-David Savard
Joonas Korpisalo will start in goal; Sergei Bobrovsky will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Adam Clendening, Dean Kukan and Sonny Milano. Brandon Dubinsky (oblique strain) is out.
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