For the fourth consecutive game, the Pittsburgh Penguins (12-8-0) will host a Western Conference team at CONSOL Energy Center tonight. No game is easy, but tonight’s match up may be the toughest of the four with the St. Louis Blues (14-6-2) in town. The Blues come into tonight’s game with the second best record in their conference while the Penguins are coming off a rough game against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
While their record could be a lot worse, the Penguins still haven’t looked like a playoff contender this season. That certainly could change, but things better change quickly offensively. A team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang should not rank 26th in goals for, especially when all four players have played in every single game. Sorry, but no one can use health as an excuse this year. Of the four, Malkin and Kessel have been the most consistent. Both players have 7 goals while Crosby and Letang have 4 combined. Things probably will turn around for Crosby, but a very interesting article was written by Ryan Wilson of HockeyBuzz about the Penguins recent 5 on 5 play this season. A lot of attention has been placed on Crosby’s struggles, but based on Wilson’s graph, the decreasing offense appears to be a team issue. In fact, every single player on the Penguins’ points per 60 rate is lower compared to an average of their numbers from the last three seasons in that category with the exception of Rob Scuderi. That’s pretty crazy, isn’t it? Yes, offense in the NHL is down, but other teams are scoring, aren’t they? Heck, the New Jersey Devils are scoring more goals than the Penguins these days. Something needs to change because the Penguins will not win a Stanley Cup playing defense. This is a team who is built to score goals and they are not doing that despite having the deepest forward group in several years this season. Losing Olli Maatta for a few weeks certainly doesn’t help the situation, but one positive is that Pittsburgh can see what they have in Adam Clendening, who still has some upside. Speaking of defense, the Penguins need a lot more from Letang, who has really struggled this season. He’s struggled mightily on the power play and just seems off a bit. He could be still trying to get back in a groove, but he has looked like the 2013 version of Letang lately. Luckily for Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury will be in goal tonight against a very tough team in the Blues.
St. Louis’ big move of the offseason was trading away winger T.J. Oshie to the Washington Capitals for winger Troy Brouwer, a goaltending prospect and a third-round pick. Some Blues fans questioned the move, but it has worked out in their favor so far. Brouwer has notched 5 goals and 8 assists in 22 games so far this season while Oshie has registered 11 points (5 goals and 6 assists) in 20 games. The Blues basically got a player with similar production with a prospect and draft pick. The Blues, who are also sometimes identified as a defensive team, have been scoring quite a bit this season, led by Russian forward Vladimir Tarasenko. His 13 goals ranks 2nd among all NHL players. In addition, Tarasenko currently ranks 7th in the NHL scoring race with 22 points in 21 games. Alexander Steen, Tarasenko’s linemate, is also off to a hot start, registering 8 goals and 9 assists. The Blues have a ton of young talent and it looks like they are starting to put it all together. Their impressive defensive duo of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo always seem to generate some buzz, but neither one of them have been the team’s best defenseman this season so far. That title currently belongs to rookie defenseman Colton Parayko. Who? Yes, the 86th overall draft pick in the 2012 NHL Draft is an early contender for the Calder Trophy. Parayko, 22, has notched 5 goals and 7 assists in his first 20 games at the NHL level and isn’t close to being done. His breakout performance has already led to Pietrangelo trade rumors, which isn’t a surprise. Many fans want to see what Parayko can do with more minutes. He has been paired with former Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo of late and they will likely be paired together again tonight. As all of Pittsburgh knows, Bortuzzo is very physical and it won’t be a shock when he tries to hit a Penguins player hard. That’s his style and it’s a good fit for the Blues system. One of the most underrated goalies in the NHL in Jake Allen will oppose Fleury in goal tonight. Allen has a 10-4-2 record with a .932 save-percentage and 1.98 goals-against average. Allen’s 3 shutouts is the most among NHL goaltenders at the moment.
Historically, the Penguins have played well against the West, but tonight will provide them a tough test. The Blues are top-five team in the NHL right now and will look for a big win over a star-studded Pittsburgh lineup on the road. The Penguins could certainly use a nice win before returning to the ice on Black Friday in Columbus.