By: Annie Shean (@JustPuckIt)
Tonight will be the first matchup this season between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues. Last season the Blues swept the two-game series in tight games, where they won 3-1 in goals. The Blues had a 5-1 win over Boston last night and are sitting in second place (80 pts) for the Western conference, while the Penguins are coming off a 2-1 late loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets and are ranked 7th (73 pts) in the east.
“Do we have to score more? Yes. But we also can’t break our defensive habits to score”
– Head Coach Mike Johnston, 2/20/15
The Penguins biggest issue since January has been finding their offensive prowess again. In the past three losses they have only been able to score three goals total, one in each loss. On the Root Sports postgame they stated the team has dropped to 16th place in the NHL regarding offense, ranking them amongst non-playoff contenders such as the New Jersey Devils and the Edmonton Oilers. Pens center Brandon Sutter was asked if the lack of goals was frustrating for the team. “It is. We just can’t get that one or two goals that we need, and we’re giving them up. We are beating ourselves. We have to get better at staying with the game when we’re in a tight one” (Sutter, 2/20/15).
The Blues however have flourished offensively this season. Vladamir Tarasenko has been a powerhouse for the team, scoring his thirtieth goal of the season last night against Boston. At 23 he is the youngest player to reach 30 goals for the franchise since Brendan Shanahan (1991-1992). Alexander Steen matched a career high with three assists in Friday night’s game, adding to his total of 51 points this season. And let’s not forget about Backes (19 goals), Oshie (16 goals), and Statsny (19 goals) — The Blues are stacked up front, and their 38-16-4 record shows it.
Goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Brian Elliot will get the start in net this evening. Fleury has been the rock for the Penguins this season, only allowing a max of 1 goal in his last six starts. Without his spectacular play the Penguins would be in a lot more trouble. When looking at both goaltenders statistics so far the season, Fleury has a .924 SV% and 2.88 GAA, while Elliott has a .921 SV% and 2.20 GAA.
Maxim Lapierre is making his return to St Louis, where he was traded to the Penguins in exchange for Marcel Goc. Both players have one assist since the trade at the end of January. On the injury front Pens defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was able to take contact in practice yesterday showing he is close to returning to the lineup, however he was ruled out for Saturday’s game. Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is also on injured reserve, needing abdominal surgery in early February after a hit by Ovechkin.
“We have to stay positive, support each other. We know we’re a good team and we know we can play better. Every game we need to take small steps forward and play right, D zone, offensive zone, keep our heads up and stay positive.” (Evgeni Malkin 2/20/15)
The slide of the Pens since January has been frustrating for the fans, as well as the team. In the quote above from Malkin includes one of my key points of the game; the team needs to stay positive and just improve their play in order to regain their offensive footing. With the superstars being kept to the perimeter, the Pens have not been able to get the desperately needed dirty goals around the crease. The team needs to increase their scoring chances, while avoiding costly moments defensively such as the turnover that led to Ovechkin’s goal Tuesday night. Personally I still have faith in the team that they can turn this around and make a strong playoff run — providing they play smarter and have faith in themselves.