PITTSBURGH - If it feels like forever since the Blues have been home, well…it pretty much has been.
The club’s season-high 10-day, six-game road trip will finally end tonight. Since hitting the road on March 14, the Blues have gone 2-1-2, collecting six of a possible 10 points on the trip.
“I’ve envisioned my bed quite a few times in the last few days and it will be nice,” captain David Backes said.
But before the Blues can fly home, they face off against a Pittsburgh Penguins club that is battling injuries. Evgeni Malkin (upper-body), Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Patric Hornqvist (undisclosed) and Christian Ehrhoff (undisclosed) have all been out. The Penguins have lost four of the last five games and currently sit third in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division with 90 points.
“We’ve got some work to do first and then we’ll move on to some home-cooking after that,” Backes said. “That’s the mindset - we have to find a way to get two points.”
“We could go 3-1-2, which is a great road trip for where we started, where we’ve traveled and where we’ve been,” Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “To be able to finish with that record would be terrific. We’re going to pour it (all) in because we’ve got another chance to have another good road trip. That’s what everybody’s focused on right now. Try to get this win and come out of here feeling real positive.”
Jake Allen will be making back-to-back starts tonight for the Blues and his first career start against the Penguins.The 24-year-old goaltender began the road trip with a 28-save shutout effort on March 15 and had a strong outing Sunday afternoon, too, making 23-saves in a 2-1 overtime loss against the Red Wings.
“I just try to make the most of my opportunities right now,” Allen said. “They’ve been coming a little bit more rare than they used to, but I try to play the best when I get called upon and give the guys a chance. It’s down to crunch time now and these are big games for our team. It’s a fun time of the year and I’m just trying to keep it on a positive note coming into the playoffs.”
Allen, who served as the backup on Feb. 21 when the Penguins beat the Blues 4-2, said he knows what to look for after observing that game from the bench.
“Their pace in the neutral zone was pretty impressive, probably one of the fastest I’ve personally seen,” he said. “You have to be ready for that and their speed on the attacks. They’ve got lots of skilled guys up front. I definitely have the work cut out for myself and our team (tonight).”
CENTRAL DIVISION UPDATE
Chicago’s 3-1 victory against Carolina last night moved them to within three points of the Blues with one game in hand.
1. St. Louis - 73 GP, 45-21-7, 97 PTS
2. Nashville - 73 GP, 44-21-8, 96 PTS
3. Chicago - 72 GP, 44-22-6, 94 PTS
SCOUTING THE PENGUINS
If the coaching staff needs any inside information on the Penguins for tonight’s game, defenseman Robert Bortuzzo might be able to help.
Bortuzzo was drafted by the Penguins in 2007 and played parts of four seasons with Pittsburgh. Tonight’s game will be his first trip back since the Blues acquired him at the trade deadline earlier this month.
“I’m obviously pretty familiar with their game plan and the speed and offense they’re good at generating,” Bortuzzo said. “(If we) take some of that time and space away and contribute in that way, I think that’s where we’ll have some success. They have a great hockey team and it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Bortuzzo has played in eight games for the Blues since the trade, registering one assist and a team-leading 15 blocked shots and 24 hits.
Carl Gunnarsson (upper-body) skated today but won’t play against the Penguins. Hitchcock said he hopes to have him back this weekend. Hitchcock also indicated that Kevin Shattenkirk is getting close to a return.
Chris Porter will take Dmitrij Jaskin's spot on a line with Patrik Berglund and Paul Stastny tonight. Hitchcock said Jaskin will have a game off to hit the reset button.
After the road trip, the Blues will play six of their final eight games at Scottrade Center.
Alexander Steen has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last six games, helping him reach the 60-point mark for the second consecutive season. Steen’s 38 points in 2015 are third best overall in the league, trailing only the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin (43) and the Islanders’ John Tavares (41).
The Blues have points in five their of their last six meetings with the Penguins (4-1-1) and have wins in three of their last four visits to Consol Energy Center.