ST. LOUIS --
Playing their fourth game in six nights, the St. Louis Blues
haven't gotten any free passes heading into the All-Star break.
After a playoff-type intensity for 60 minutes in a 3-1 loss at Detroit Monday, the Blues jumped on a plane and headed back home, where they have the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins
awaiting for tonight's matchup at Scottrade Center.
The Penguins (27-17-4) have reeled off six wins in a row after dropping six. In the six games they've won, the Pens have picked it up offensively with 25 goals. They scored only six in the previous six losses in a row.
"Pittsburgh's playing really well," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They've got the good winning feeling going. We're in the same position when we went into Pittsburgh. We played very well there, so if we can duplicate the game there we played in Pitt, it'll be really good for us. That was a jumping off point for us. We really took the ball from there and played well for about a month. That's what we want to do is keep building on the good things we're doing and address some of the things we need to get better in."
The Blues won 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 23, which was Sidney Crosby
's second game back from a concussion, on an overtime goal by Alex Pietrangelo
. It started a string of four straight wins for the Blues, and the Penguins remember it quite well.
"They're a formidable challenge," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
said. "They play a physical, aggressive game. They have been tough to score against, they haven't given up a lot of goals, they've gotten good goaltending, and they're a team that takes the attack to the other team as well, quickly and with aggression. They're playing well on the road and at home."
The Blues (29-13-6) went on a 9-1-2 run starting with the win over the Penguins, a game they used as a building block to what Hitchcock is trying to preach to his squad.
"We want to do the things they do," Hitchcock said of the Penguins. "They're one of the best north-south teams in the League. They have been for four years now. We want to learn to play that way. It's a hard way to play, it's very demanding but very successful.
"We played that way for the most part against Pitt and were very successful. It helps selling it down the line in other games. We were able to use that game for over a month as a reference point that this is how you have to play to win hockey games in the League now."
The Blues will have the challenge of facing the scorching-hot Evgeni Malkin
, who leads the NHL with 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists) in 41 games.
Malkin has 15 points in nine games coming into tonight, and combined with James Neal
's 26 goals and 20 assists, the Penguins will throw a lot at the Blues' top line, led by captain David Backes
"I think when you play against teams who are good offensively, they challenge you defensively," Hitchcock said. "They're a little different opponent. They play a different way, but it'll be a good challenge for us."
The St. Louis Blues
' loss at Detroit on Monday night marks their third and final time playing at Joe Louis Arena this season. They went 0-3 there, and those defeats are the Blues' only regulation losses in their last 15 games (10-3-2).
"They dialed up their ability to play defense and didn't give us much and created a lot on the transition," Backes said of the Western Conference-leading Red Wings. "Rather than having a good response to it and staying with our game, putting pucks in and going on the forecheck, we kind of tried to play a finesse game and tried to play an easier game. You can't respond that way or else they take advantage. They create a lot of penalties and capitalized on a lot of their chances."
"They don't dial up their skill, they dial up their checking," Hitchcock said of the Red Wings. "They dial up the checking and they pushed a few of our guys out. Lessons learned.
"We're a young team trying to learn to win. We're getting closer and closer. There's going to come a time when we're going to beat them, whether it's in a series or whatever, we're going to end up beating them. But we're going to have to learn the lessons. ... All the games were very similar. We had an advantage early, they had the advantage late and they ended up beating us. The same thing happened here, too. They had the advantage early in both games here and then we took it over. They're up 3-2 in the series, but it's their checking that dialed it up yesterday. They pushed us out from that aspect and got some guys discouraged. We dealt with it today and it's going to make us better moving forward."
The game against Detroit changed for the Blues late in the first period on Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart
's check on Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo
The Blues were leading 1-0 at the time and the jolt along the right boards seemed to spark the Wings. They went on to score twice in the second and late in the third.
The Blues' Chris Stewart
took exception to Stuart's hit, came off the bench on a line change and challenged Stuart. Stewart went on to drop Stuart in a fight but got 17 minutes in penalties, including an instigator penalty that led to Pavel Datsyuk
's game-tying power play goal.
Still, the Blues had no issues with Stewart sticking up for a teammate.
"I loved it. No problem," Hitchcock said. "What he did was a teammate's response. No issue."
Backes added: "We need to be able to kill off that penalty and pick a guy up. Maybe he took an extra penalty, but he stood up for a teammate. We're going to stick together and go through the battles together. He gets a lot of respect and admiration from our team; we don't think that was a poor play at all."