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Blues visit Penguins in search of first win on trip

by John Kreiser /

BLUES (47-16-7) at PENGUINS (46-19-5)


Last 10: St. Louis 7-2-1; Pittsburgh 6-3-1

Season series: The St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins are playing for the second and final time. The Blues won 2-1 in St. Louis on Nov. 9.

Big story: Each team is first in its division, but while the Penguins are cruising to the Metropolitan Division title, the Blues suddenly find themselves having to hold off the Chicago Blackhawks for the top spot in the Central Division after losing consecutive games on the road.

Team Scope:

Blues: St. Louis led 1-0 after the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon, but an 0-for-6 performance on the power play led to a 4-1 loss. Combined with a 4-0 defeat in Chicago on Wednesday, the Blues have lost back-to-back games while being outscored 8-1. Their lead over the Blackhawks is down to four points, though the Blues also has a game in hand. They also clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Phoenix Coyotes lost to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

Though the Blues have punched their ticket to the postseason, coach Ken Hitchcock isn't happy with his team's work ethic, especially in the attacking zone.

"Our level of determination in the offensive zone isn't what it's going to need to be to beat great goaltending," Hitchcock said. "We're going to have to find a way to get to a much higher level of compete in the offensive zone."

Penguins: Pittsburgh is 2-2-1 in its past five games, but the good news for the Penguins is that Evgeni Malkin is flying again. Malkin had two goals in a 5-4 road loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, then figured in all four goals Saturday when the Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime. Malkin scored twice and had an assist in regulation, then added a second assist on James Neal's power-play goal in OT.

"[Malkin] was flying," captain Sidney Crosby said. "He just dominated the whole night. He had the puck the entire game, drew two or three penalties, at least. He was on fire."

Malkin said some conversations with Crosby have helped him step up his game.

"I feel better every game," Malkin said. "I didn't play good after the Olympics, and Sid, he helped me a lot because he understands my problem with the loss and he supports me and helps me. After we talk, I feel so much better and I've just started to play better."

Who's hot: Forward Jaden Schwartz scored the Blues' lone goal Saturday and has three goals in the past five games. … Malkin has four goals and six points in the past two games for the Penguins after being held off the score sheet in three straight. Crosby had a goal and two assists against Tampa Bay, his second three-point performance in three games.

Injury report: Blues forwards Vladimir Tarasenko (hand) and Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) are out. … Penguins forward Joe Vitale (upper body) won't play. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (hand) and forwards Pascal Dupuis (knee) and Chris Conner (hand) are also out. Letang has been practicing. Forward Beau Bennett (wrist) has started a conditioning assignment with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

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