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Pietrangelo thriving with more responsibility for Blues

Defenseman's minutes, offense have increased since Shattenkirk trade

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is aware that he's near the top among NHL defensemen in scoring.

Enough to joke about it.

"It's a typo," Pietrangelo said.

Fortunately for the Blues (4-2-0), who play the Chicago Blackhawks (4-1-1) at Scottrade Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV), that is not the case.

The Blues' inability to generate offense from their bottom-six forwards has thrust more responsibility on the defensemen, and Pietrangelo has stepped up. With eight points (two goals, six assists) in six games, he is fourth in the League in scoring among defensemen, behind Shayne Gostisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers (10 points), Mike Green of the Detroit Red Wings (nine) and Will Butcher of the New Jersey Devils (nine).

A second season as captain has meant more responsibility for Pietrangelo, 27, and more responsibility means more opportunities to thrive. He has taken it upon himself to accept whatever challenges the Blues have thrown his way, whether that means more minutes, playing in more situations or making up for the departures of certain players.

The biggest void left was by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, traded to the Washington Capitals on Feb. 27 (he agreed to a four-year contract with the New York Rangers on July 1). Shattenkirk had 42 points (11 goals, 31 assists) in 61 games for the Blues last season. Someone needed to help offset the loss, and Pietrangelo is doing so.

Video: STL@PIT: Pietrangelo snipes one in from the high slot

"It's good," said Pietrangelo, who had 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) in 80 games last season. "Obviously, you want to have success personally [but] we've got a lot of guys who can contribute ... it's great right now. It would be nice to keep it up, but in the grand scheme of things, we've all got work to do.

"I think it's just opportunity too with [Shattenkirk] being gone, and with all the penalties called, getting the opportunity to play on the power play makes it a lot easier."

Before Shattenkirk was traded, Pietrangelo, the Blues' leader in ice time per game the past seven seasons, averaged 24:53. That increased to 26:35 in the final 20 games of last season, enabling Pietrangelo to finish eighth in the League at 25:16.

This season, Pietrangelo is averaging 26:29 per game, which would be an NHL career high, and is tied for second in the League with P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators, behind Rasmus Ristolainen of the Buffalo Sabres (26:58).

"He wants to be the guy that everyone leans on," Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson said. "He's the leader of the team and he wants to show that on and off the ice. Even in practice, he's one of the hardest working guys. He puts in his time off the ice. He's had a great start to the year so far. It just shows he's a character guy, he's a great guy in the dressing room. When he goes out there, he does what he does and the rest of the team follows in his footsteps.

"Someone had to fill [Shattenkirk's] spot and he wanted to be that guy."

Pietrangelo's production (1.3 points per game this season) also has picked up. He had 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists), an average of 0.5 per game, in 60 games with Shattenkirk last season, and 18 points (five goals, 13 assists), an average of 0.9 per game, after the trade. His nine-game point streak dating to last season ended in a 2-1 loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

"I think there were situations that obviously when [Shattenkirk] left, there were going to be some minutes that were going to be up for grabs and some of those were offensive-situation minutes, whether you're trailing in a game, whether you're on the power play," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "[Pietrangelo] was the guy that rose to that occasion and grabbed a hold of it, and obviously he's taken advantage of it. 

"You can see production-wise what he's done. I really want to emphasize that we need him to do those things but also to be the same player in many aspects and many ways that he always has been as far as a real strong defender and a guy that can play against top lines, a guy that can be a difference maker on each side of the puck."

Pietrangelo, who said he watched Hockey Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom growing up, wants to be the one the Blues count on.

"You feel good being that go-to guy," Pietrangelo said. "I think most people feel better the more they play, especially when you get used to playing those minutes. 

"It's a good opportunity. I figure I can just contribute in the game. I think when you're playing in all situations too, it keeps you engaged, it's easy to feel like you're a part of it."

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