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Blues, Penguins each short a key defenseman

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- A battle of past Olympians and 2014 Sochi Olympics hopefuls representing a plethora of countries will happen Saturday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins face the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.

But each team, a top-tier team in each conference, will be missing some key pieces when the puck drops.

Pittsburgh will be without defenseman Paul Martin (undisclosed), but they are expected to get right wing Beau Bennett (lower-body) back into the lineup.

"He's not going to be available for tonight's game, Paul Martin," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "That leaves us with six defensemen here."

The Blues (10-2-2) will insert defenseman Ian Cole into the lineup in place of veteran Jordan Leopold (hand), who blocked a shot in a 3-2 victory Thursday against the Calgary Flames.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called Leopold's injury day-to-day, but a better prognosis won't be known until after the weekend.

"We'll know a little bit better on Monday how long he's going to be out for," Hitchcock said. "Right now it's just day to day and we'll see how he feels. Whether it's a week or two, we'll see how it feels. We'll know more on dates on Monday."

The Penguins also are on the cusp of getting right wing James Neal (upper body) back into the lineup in the near future.

Neal skated with Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen during the morning skate Saturday and participated in all the top drills but will not return against the Blues.Neal has not played since the season opener, missing the past 15 games. The Penguins do not play again until Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"If I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go," Neal said. "I just need to get myself as close to game shape as possible. Hopefully, I can get back in the lineup.

"It's good to be a part of a morning skate again, get that game feel. It feels good to be back."

Bennett returns after missing the past 11 games and will play on the Penguins' second line with Malkin and Jokinen.

"A lot can be learned from watching [from the press box], but it'll be exciting to get back out there, that's for sure," said Bennett, who has two assists. "The injury was kind of hampering what I can do out there. It got to the point where I couldn't just go anymore. Good to have some time off and get it back to full strength. I feel a lot better because of it."

Former Blues forward Matt D'Agostini, who has dressed in two games this season dealing with various ailments, will return after missing four games.

"It's always good to get back in the lineup," D'Agostini said. "Coming back here's obviously pretty special. It's fun to play in these types of games.

"It's fun coming back in here and seeing the boys again. Playing against old teammates is always fun."

As for players who are either locks to participate in the Olympics or are hopefuls, they include (from Pittsburgh): Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury and Chris Kunitz (Canada), Malkin (Russia), Brooks Orpik (USA), and Olli Maatta (Finland); (from St. Louis): David Backes, Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie (USA), Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester (Canada), Vladimir Sobotka and Roman Polak (Czech Republic), Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund (Sweden), Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia) and Vladimir Tarasenko (Russia).

The probable lineups for the Penguins and the Blues:


Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Derek Roy - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart

Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Vladimir Tarasenko

Chris Porter - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak

Brian Elliott

Scratched: Adam Cracknell

Injured: Brenden Morrow (upper-body), Jordan Leopold (hand), Magnus Paajarvi (upper-body)


Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis

Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - Beau Bennett

Tanner Glass - Brandon Sutter - Matt D'Agostini

Craig Adams - Joe Vitale - Jayson Megna

Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland

Matt Niskanen - Kris Letang

Olli Maatta - Robert Bortuzzo

Marc-Andre Fleury

Jeff Zatkoff

Scratched: Dustin Jeffrey

Injured: Paul Martin (undisclosed), Rob Scuderi (ankle), James Neal (upper-body), Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), Chuck Kobasew (lower-body)

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