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Mats Sundin was admittedly rusty during his first NHL game in more than nine months. Playing his first home game with his new team may help him quickly forget that sluggish start.
Sundin will take the ice at GM Place for the first time with the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night when they meet the woeful St. Louis Blues for the first time in 2008-09.
Sundin, who signed a one-year deal on Dec. 18, was held without a point in his Canucks debut on Wednesday, a 4-2 win at Edmonton. The 37-year-old former Toronto captain played just over 15 minutes, but didn't register a shot on goal.
Still, Sundin was pleased.
"I felt good in the battles," he said Thursday. "I felt strong. The biggest thing is timing when you're in situations around the net passing and shooting and making plays."
Sundin has averaged better than a point per game in his career playing in Vancouver, tallying eight goals and 13 assists in 17 contests. He also has 16 goals and 24 assists in 45 career games against St. Louis.
Vancouver (22-15-5), second in the Northwest Division behind Calgary, added Sundin in hopes of making its deepest playoff run in 15 years. Since losing to the New York Rangers in the 1994 Stanley Cup finals, the Canucks have reached the postseason seven times but have reached the second round only twice and have not advanced further.
With Sundin still rounding into form, Steve Bernier stepped up in the win over the Oilers, scoring twice in a 12-second span and adding an assist. The right wing has had at least one point each time he's faced the Blues, with five goals and four assists in six career games.
The Canucks also got some encouraging news on Thursday when All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo briefly returned to practice.
Luongo, who has five shutouts among his 11 wins this season, hasn't played since Nov. 22 due to a groin injury. The Canucks captain hopes to return before the All-Star break later this month.
"As far as timing, I don't know what it's going to feel like until I get into full practice and I'm sure it's going to be a bit of a battle at the beginning because being away for six weeks its not something easy to jump right in to," he said.
The Canucks have gone 10-9-3 with Curtis Sanford, Jason LaBarbera and rookie Cory Schneider playing in place of Luongo.
St. Louis owns the worst record in the Western Conference, and will try to win back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 6-8. On Saturday, Keith Tkachuk scored the go-ahead goal in the second period as the Blues defeated Columbus 5-2 to snap a three-game losing streak.
"They were really desperate, and they played like that," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said of St. Louis (15-21-3).
Tkachuk ranks second on the Blues with 14 goals and 27 points. The All-Star has points in four of his last five visits to Vancouver, with two goals and four assists in that span.
Brad Boyes leads St. Louis with 18 goals, but has none in his last five road games. He's scored three in his last two games at GM Place.
The Blues are beginning a three-game swing through western Canada in a building where they have struggled lately. St. Louis is 0-2-2 since its last win in Vancouver in March 2006, and 2-6-2 with three ties over the last 13 visits there.