Preview: St. Louis Blues at Pittsburgh Penguins

Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo (27) gives chase after the puck alongside Penguins forward Patrick Hornqvist (72). (Photo Courtesy: Gene J. Puskar, AP Photo)

Pittsburgh, PA – The St. Louis Blues (36-27-7) are headed to the PPG Paints Arena in the Steel City to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins (39-23-9) in a 12pm afternoon matchup. The Blues have been struggling offensively ever since losing Vladimir Tarasenko last week; they are 0-2-1 without him and dropped a chance for two critical points against the last-place Ottawa Senators, losing 2-0 on Thursday. It was the first time the Senators had shut out the Blues in their history.

The loss was enough to send St. Louis back into the first wild card spot for the evening, but a 2-1 Dallas loss against Vegas last night gave the Blues the 3rd Central spot right back. On the East side, the Penguins are securing their playoff spot, coming off three straight wins and six in their last seven. Pittsburgh stands 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, four points ahead of division rival Carolina, who holds the second wild card spot. The Penguins and Blues will meet for the second and final time this season, after Pittsburgh embarrassed the Blues on home ice 6-1 just days before the new year.

HIGH, OR DRY

The Blues have been without forwards Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko for a combined nine games since their hot streak in February. In those games the Blues are 2-5-2 and have been outscored 25-13. With the top line of Schenn, Tarasenko, and Ryan O’Reilly intact, the Blues are 2-0-0 in March and outscoring their opponents 9-4. All three of those players hold the top three positions for goals, assists, and/or total points. The next player on that points list? David Perron, who has missed 35 games with a concussion.

In short: The Blues need to find some offensive depth in order to keep the playoff hopes alive. Robert Thomas has been trying to step up to the task, putting up five points in his last seven games, and the defense has a league-high 41 goals this season. However, the rest of the Blues forwards will need to contribute for their team on the scoresheet with the timetables of Perron and Tarasenko still up in the air.

CLICKING PENS

The Pittsburgh Penguins, much like the St. Louis Blues, had been finding trouble with consistent lines that have chemistry night in and night out. Finally, down the final stretch to the postseason, they have seemed to find their stride. Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby put up nearly a goal per game and their offense as a duo could be rivaled with that of Tampa Bay’s Stamkos and Kucherov. Combined with Jared McCann, who has been an empty-net vulture and a defensive machine, the top line for Pittsburgh will be one to watch out for in the playoffs. Erik Gudbranson, while not yet contributing on the scoresheet in his eight games with the Pens, has been a solid defensive presence while creating shots and scoring opportunities to bolster down both sides of the ice.

Finally, as all playoff teams need, the goaltenders Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith have made a huge contribution to the recent turnaround in the Steel City. Murray, who returned from injury in mid-December, went 9-0-0 in nine straight starts and is currently 24-11-3 with a .917 save percentage. DeSmith, who is only in his sophomore season with Pittsburgh, has been a reliable backup goaltender. He posted a shutout after not playing since February 21st last night against Buffalo, and also sits with a .917 save percentage.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

The St. Louis Blues have been surprisingly more successful on the road than at home this season. The Blues have a 19-12-5 road record and have won 15 of their last 20 road contests. Their penalty kill on the road is first overall in the NHL, and they have a +10-goal differential and +100-shot differential. When leading after two periods, the Blues are a near-perfect 14-0-1.

A frightening stat for the Blues, however, is their comeback ability. The Blues are 8-20-3 when the opposition scores first and an abysmal 2-23-4 when trailing after two periods. When leading after two, they are a dominant 27-2-2. The Blues, then, have two options: find a way to come back into games (especially in the third period), or lead their opponents on the scoreboard after 40.

The Blues and Penguins face off at 11am ET at the PPG Paints Arena on Saturday. Full game coverage is provided by:

STL: FSMW, KMOX 1120, NHL.tv

PIT: ATTP, WMBS 590

For more local Blues stories, insights and more, visit bluesrants.com!

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