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Weekes on the Web

Pluses, minuses for Blues-Penguins

St. Louis depth has helped overcome injuries; Guentzel leading charge for Pittsburgh without Crosby

by Kevin Weekes @KevinWeekes / NHL Network Analyst

Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN "Wednesday Night Hockey" game in his Weekes on the Web blog.

The St. Louis Blues haven't had a Stanley Cup hangover since winning the championship last season. They've won four straight and are first in the Western Conference with 42 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins meanwhile are struggling to find consistency, going 8-7-4 since a 6-2-0 start to the season.

It should be a great game with the winners of three of the previous four Stanley Cup championships playing when the Blues (18-5-6) visit the Penguins (14-9-4) at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

Here's my breakdown of the game:

 

Blues

Pluses: Their goaltending has been incredible. Jordan Binnington has proven he wasn't a one-season wonder, going 13-4-4 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 21 games. He is an early Vezina Trophy candidate. And Jake Allen, who shut out the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday and has started three of the past five games, is 5-1-2 with a 2.35 GAA and .926 save percentage.

They've succeeded with a next-man up mentality. The Blues are without injured forwards Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Alexander Steen (ankle), Sammy Blais (wrist) and Oskar Sundqvist (lower body), yet their depth forwards have stepped up and St. Louis keeps winning.

Lastly, their special teams have been great. They are tied for fifth in the NHL in power-play percentage (24.7 percent) and are ninth in penalty-killing percentage (84.1 percent). 

Video: STL@TBL: Binnington makes save on Palat

Minuses: I already mentioned the injuries, which are tough. They're also without defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (illness). Lucky for the Blues, they have quality depth on defense as well as up front and can adequately handle this short-term loss.

The only other negative for the Blues is that they're 0-3 in the shootout. We know how important points are, so let's see if they can find success in that area as the season goes on.

 

Penguins

Pluses: I must start with forward Jake Guentzel. There were those who thought he only thrived playing with Sidney Crosby. Last season he scored an NHL career-high 40 goals, mainly with Crosby as his center. This season, Guentzel leads the Penguins with 15 goals and 27 points in 27 games but hasn't had the luxury of playing with Crosby for the past 10 games following Crosby's core muscle surgery. That hasn't slowed Guentzel, who has seven goals in his past eight games.

The depth players have played very well. Forwards Jared McCann and Bryan Rust each have 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) and Rust has done that in just 14 games. Domink Kahun has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) and Dominik Simon has 13 points (two goals, 11 assists). Brandon Tanev has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) and has brought some physicality: he ranks fourth in the League with 102 hits.

Video: PIT@CBJ: Guentzel scores in 1st period

Minuses: Any time you're without one of the best players in the world, it hurts. Not having Crosby has and will continue to affect them. The Penguins are 4-3-3 without their captain. But Crosby hasn't been the only injured player they've missed. Forward Nick Bjugstad (lower body) and defenseman Brian Dumoulin (ankle) are sidelined; and they've been without Rust, McCann, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Justin Schultz and Kris Letang at points this season.

Goalie Matt Murray got off to a great start but has allowed at least four goals in each of his past four games. That's not all on him, but he now has an .897 save percentage and 2.84 GAA this season. The Penguins are more than capable of playing a high-scoring game with anyone, but they'd prefer to not have to rely on that. This should be a good test against a good Blues team which defeated them 5-2 at Enterprise Center on Saturday.

 

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Is Pittsburgh willing to match the physicality of St. Louis?

2. Matchup between the power of the Blues against the speed of the Penguins

3. Special teams battle

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