What To Watch For: Pens vs. Blues
Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 7:00 AM ET / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
PENGUINS (27-17-4) vs. BLUES (29-13-6)
WHEN: Jan. 24, 2012 - 8:00 pm | WHERE: Scottrade Center
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS | LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM
The St. Louis Blues lost their first game in regulation this month to the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, surrendering a big two points that would have vaulted them to the top of the Western Conference and the NHL. But one loss doesn’t subtract from what the Blues – who have missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons – have been able to accomplish so far this year, as they’re now 8-1-1 in January and have moved quickly up the conference standings after falling to as low as 14th at one point this season.
|The Penguins will likely see All-Star Brian Elliott in goal Tuesday. (Getty Images)|
What’s been perhaps most impressive about this St. Louis squad’s success is the collective effort by which they’ve achieved it. As defenseman Barrett Jackman told NHL.com, “We've kind of quietly been working our way up the standings and our team's been playing great together. Nobody's been really standing out and carrying it.”
They’ve got plenty of burgeoning young talent up front, especially in their top six. Captain David Backes, who centers the top line, is the oldest of the group at age 27. He’s the team’s leading scorer with 16 goals and 37 points, which shows how much the Blues really do share the load. However, he has been picking up his production as of late as half of his point total (19) has come in the last 18 games. T.J. Oshie is on his right, who ranks second on the team in scoring and has also been trending up with 13 points (5G-8A) in his last 17 games. And on the left is David Perron, who made his return to the lineup Dec. 2 after missing 96 games while recovering from a concussion and has 17 points (4G-13A) in 23 games.
The second line of Vladimir Sobotka (24), Patrik Berglund (23) and Matt D’Agostini (25) is a trio with skill down the middle and grit on the sides while Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, both former NHL captains, bring a steady veteran presence to the team on the third line.
The Blues have one of the league’s best young defenseman on their blue line in Alex Pietrangelo. The 22-year-old continues to emerge into a bonafide No. 1 defenseman with each passing game. He skates with Carlo Colaiacovo on the top pairing, while Barrett Jackman and Kevin Shattenkirk round out the top four.
The Blues currently have the NHL’s best defense with a 1.96 goals-against average – and that number can be largely attributed to the team’s goaltending. Their situation between the pipes is one of the league’s most enviable, as both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott are playing some incredible hockey. Halak has turned it around in a big way since going 3-7-2 in his first 11 starts this season. His career-high seven-game winning streak was snapped on Monday in Detroit, but he’s still 11-1-3 in his last 14 starts and has three shutouts in his last six outings. But the Penguins will likely see Elliott again on Wednesday, as it’s the second game of a back-to-back situation. Elliott, was voted to the 2012 NHL All-Star Game, ranks first among NHL goaltenders in goals-against average (1.68) and second in save percentage (.937).
BLUES: ALEX PIETRANGELO
Pietrangelo’s assignment in the last meeting between St. Louis and Pittsburgh was to cover Sidney Crosby, which he did well by holding the Penguins captain scoreless while potting the overtime winner to get the Blues two points. Look for the 22-year-old blueliner with excellent size and two-way ability to have Evgeni Malkin as his mark on Tuesday night. Hitchcock has said there are few young defensemen in the league as poised as Pietrangelo in his own zone, as he’s got a great stick and plays disciplined. But he’s also been delivering offensively, as his nine-game point streak was snapped on Monday in Detroit – one game shy of tying the franchise record for a point streak by a defenseman.
PENS: STEVE SULLIVAN
Prior to signing with Pittsburgh in the offseason, Sullivan spent the last 11 seasons of his career in the Central Division with Chicago and Nashville. So needless to say, he’s seen plenty of St. Louis over the years. The veteran winger has piled up 22 goals and 50 points in 61 career games against the Blues, and a game like this – against an opponent he’s so familiar with – could rejuvenate Sullivan’s offensive game.
Both Pittsburgh and St. Louis are among the NHL’s best teams against its opposite conference. St. Louis is 9-0-1 this year against the East, for a NHL-best .903 percentage, while the Penguins are 7-1-3 versus the Western Conference for an Eastern Conference-leading .773 percentage.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have won a season-high six straight games entering Tuesday. During their streak they are outscoring foes 24-13. The streak has been due in large part to goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been in net for all six wins: posting a 2.10 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage during his streak. This is Fleury’s longest winning streak since a six-game streak from Jan. 12-Feb. 1 of last season.
For the season, Fleury, who has made a career-high 21 straight appearances, currently ranks third (tied) in the NHL with 25 wins and ninth with a 2.26 goals-against average.
David Perron has 13 pts (3-10-13) in his last 13 home games. The Blues are 25-1-2 in their last 28 home games with Perron in the lineup while he has logged points in 18 of the 28 games and 25 points overall (7-18-25, +18).
F Arron Asham, illness/concussion-like symptoms (5)
C Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (21)
D Simon Despres, knee (8)
F Jordan Staal, knee (10)
D Ken Huskins, ankle (38)
F Andy McDonald, concussion (45)
F Alexander Steen, concussion (12)
Author: Michelle Crechiolo