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Penguins-Blues Preview @NHLdotcom
Penguins-Blues Preview

GAME: Pittsburgh Penguins (8-16-6) at St. Louis Blues (5-17-4).

TIME: Tuesday, 8 p.m. EST.

With a league-low 14 points, it's difficult to argue the St. Louis Blues aren't the worst team in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins, however, are getting dangerously close to entering that conversation.

Two of the league's weakest teams go head-to-head as the Penguins, losers of seven of eight, face the lowly Blues, who have dropped six of seven.

Despite the impressive play of heralded rookie Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are just two points ahead of the Washington Capitals, the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh has won consecutive games only once this season, Nov. 1 and 3 against the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders. A weak defense is the biggest problem facing Pittsburgh, which has allowed an NHL-high 121 goals this season.

Mark Recchi's goal with 28.9 seconds left prevented the Penguins from being shut out, but they were outshot 39-17 in a 3-1 loss Monday to the Detroit Red Wings.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 36 shots in a losing effort, drawing praise from Crosby.

"He played great," Crosby said. "He gave us a chance throughout the game."

Although Crosby assisted on Recchi's goal for his team-leading 31st point, the rookie was held without a goal for the third straight game. Crosby has been limited to one goal and two assists in his last seven games.

Injuries to key players also have contributed to the Penguins' poor season. Player-owner Mario Lemieux missed his third straight game after experiencing a rapid heartbeat last week and being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Lemieux hopes to be back on the ice within a week.

Right wing Ziggy Palffy did not make this two-game road trip due to a groin injury and left wing John LeClair has missed the past two games with hip and groin problems.

Pittsburgh has been outscored 15-6 during a four-game road losing streak.

St. Louis, last in the NHL in points (14) and wins (5), likely will miss the playoffs for the first time in 26 seasons.

Goaltending is one of several problem areas for the Blues, who waived starter Patrick Lalime on Monday.

Lalime, acquired from the Ottawa Senators after the 2003-04 season, was released two days after another poor performance. Coach Mike Kitchen wasn't pleased with Lalime's play in a 5-4 overtime loss Saturday to the New York Rangers, calling four of the five goals soft.

"He's been struggling and the team is starting to play better," Kitchen said. "It's just a matter that we thought it was time to make a change and see if that helps out, and have Patty step away just a little bit so he can work on his game and get back to where he was when he was at Ottawa."

Curtis Sanford will take over as St. Louis' starting goalie. The Blues Monday also recalled Jason Bacashihua from Peoria of the American Hockey League.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 12): Penguins - 22 points, 5th place, 22 PB, Atlantic Division. Blues - 14 points, 5th place, 30 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Penguins - Crosby, 13 goals and 31 points; Crosby and Palffy, 18 assists; Brooks Orpik, 51 PIM. Blues - Mike Sillinger and Dean McAmmond, 9 goals; Doug Weight and Petr Cajanek, 16 assists; Weight, 21 points; Jamal Mayers, 49 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 12): Penguins - Power play: 15.4 percent (30 for 195), 22nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 79 percent (158 for 200), 26th. Blues - Power play: 15.4 percent (29 for 188), 21st. Penalty killing: 80.2 percent (134 for 167), 24th.

GOALTENDERS: Penguins - Fleury (2-5-1, 0 SO, 3.06 GAA); Jocelyn Thibault (1-8-2, 4.44). Blues - Sanford (2-4-0, 1, 3.35); Bacashihua (no appearances).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Blues, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 14; Blues, 3-2, OT. At St. Louis, Eric Boguniecki scored with 2:54 left in overtime as the Blues handed the Penguins their 14th straight loss.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Penguins - 4-8-3 on the road; Blues - 3-10-2 at home.

Associated Press
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