By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues open a four-game homestand against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday (7 p.m.; FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM) riding a three-game losing streak but getting some good news on the injury front.
Forward Oskar Sundqvist has been activated off injured-reserve and will return after missing the past six games with a lower-body, sustained against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 27.
To make room for Sundqvist, Nathan Walker was assigned to San Antonio of the American Hockey League.
Sundqvist's return is good news for a Blues team searching for some healthy bodies. He scored two goals against the Lightning in a 4-3 win and is tied for third on the team with eight.
"He had 14, 15 (goals) last year and that's with a little bit of power play time, but not on a consistent basis," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Sundqvist, who is expected to start on the fourth line with Jacob de la Rose and Mackenzie MacEachern. "I think that he is the type of guy that's going to get that many goals, that range of goals. Maybe more, you never know. It's all hard work and being aggressive. That's his game. He wills his way there and wills his way to scoring goals.
"He's a good player obviously, 200-foot player for us. He was scoring for us before he got hurt. He does a lot of good stuff for us, penalty kill. He just makes whatever line he goes on better. That's what he does."
There was some hope that Alexander Steen (high ankle sprain) and Zach Sanford (upper body) could return tonight, but they will not. Both skaters were on the ice for an optional morning skate and could return Saturday.
"Hopefully Saturday but we'll see," Berube said.
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The Blues have lost three straight in regulation for the first time since Nov. 17-21, 2018 and are looking to avoid their first four-game losing streak since going 0-6-1 Feb. 11-27, 2018.
"We haven't finished the way we wanted to and we have a chance to regroup at home and to get back on track," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "It's a big opportunity for us and we look forward to it."
Berube said he wants to see the Blues with more compete around the nets tonight, particularly on the offensive side.
"Both nets are important tonight," he said. "We have to get to the net more offensively. Our D are shooting a ton of pucks and we're not at the net enough for tips and rebounds and things like that. I'm looking for us to get to the net a lot more tonight. You have to get traffic on [Marc-Andre] Fleury if he's playing. We've got to get some goals that way. We're not creating enough second and third opportunities around the net. So that's one area we can be a lot better. The other area is our net, cleaning up second and third opportunities the other way. We're there but we're not. We've got to get into people more at our net and be heavier at our net and not allow second or third opportunities. They go to the net, they've got guys who are big players and go to the net. We're going to have to be strong there. Both nets are huge tonight."
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The round of former Blues coming to town includes Paul Stastny and Ryan Reaves, both members of the Blues once upon a time and past players that were glad for friends to win a Stanley Cup.
Stastny is close friends with a number of current Blues players, particularly Steen, Jaden Schwartz and Robert Bortuzzo, and kept in contact with them surprisingly during the Cup run.
"I was talking to them throughout the playoffs," Stastny said. "Once we were out, I was talking to them, whether it was Schwartzy or Bobbo or Steen, guys I'm really close with. Then I sent a text right away. I wasn't expecting a text back for at least three or four days. Some came back right away, some came back a week later, which is what was expected. You realize how hard it is. Some guys work so hard for it and never get there and obviously takes a lot of hard work, a lot of luck, so you're happy for some of those guys.
"It was bittersweet. You're happy for the city. Growing up a St. Louis fan and knowing the hardships the team went through, some of the times, like you knew the city was waiting for it. There are certain guys I was super-happy for just because I know how hard they worked. Not just on the ice but away from the rink, the kind of the battles that they went through, ups and downs, whether it was the year before or so many years before that."
The feeling was mutual for Reaves, as far as a bittersweet feeling is concerned.
"Bittersweet obviously. Happy for all the guys I played with, happy to see them win and lift the Cup. Happy for the city's first Stanley Cup in team history, but you never want to get traded from somewhere and them go win. It doesn't usually feel too good," Reaves said. "The city was thirsty for the win and they got it. I could only imagine it was a good time. I saw some videos, some pictures, it was fun. ... I text all the guys I played with and congratulated them for sure."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou
David Perron-Ryan O'Reilly-Tyler Bozak
Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Troy Brouwer
Mackenzie MacEachern-Jacob de la Rose-Oskar Sundqvist
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Justin Faulk
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo and Austin Poganski. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Alexander Steen (ankle), Sammy Blais (wrist) and Zach Sanford (upper body).
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The Golden Knights' projected lineup:
Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith
Max Pacioretty-Chandler Stephenson-Mark Stone
Valentin Zykov-Paul Stastny-Alex Tuch
William Carrier-Tomas Nosek-Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb-Nate Schmidt
Nicolas Hague-Shea Theodore
Deryk Engelland-Nick Holden
Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal; Malcolm Subban will be the backup.
The healthy scratch is expected to be Jon Merrill. Cody Glass (upper body) and Cody Eakin (upper body) are out.