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Top scorers meet Penguins visit Blues

by Matthew Mankiewich

PENGUINS (11-5-0) at BLUES (10-2-2)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 6-4-0, St. Louis 6-2-2

Season series: It's the first meeting between the teams since Jan. 24, 2012, when the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 in a shootout at Scottrade Center. The Blues won the two previous meetings between the teams in overtime. They don't meet again until St. Louis comes to Consol Energy Center on March 23.

Big story: The Scottrade Center crowd is in for a treat, as the NHL leader in points faces the League leader in goals. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby holds the edge in scoring with 23 points despite being kept off the scoresheet Wednesday night in a 5-1 road loss to the New York Rangers. Blues forward Alexander Steen is tops with 14 goals, one more than of Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals -- and six more than Crosby. It's a goal-a-game pace that evokes memories of Brett Hull's 1990-91 season, when he scored 16 goals in his first 14 games and finished with 86 goals in 78 games for the Blues.

Team Scope:

Penguins: Crosby is used to it by now. As one of the top scorers in the League his entire career, he sees the opposition's best every night. And when a team can put together a high-powered line like the Blues can with Steen, T.J. Oshie and David Backes, Crosby relishes the challenge.

"I think it's a different look," Crosby said at practice Friday. "I mean, some guys are looking to shut you down when you go against them, other lines are trying to outscore you so it's kind of a different lineup, but those are all competitions or games within the game. I think that's what you get excited for every game. In this case, he [Steen] takes a lot of pride and you have to be ready to compete, but on the flip side you get excited for that."

Blues: There was a lot to like in the Blues' 3-2 win against the Calgary Flames on Thursday night, at least through the first two periods. But after the Blues controlled the play through 40 minutes, penalties sapped their momentum in the third, allowing the Flames to make it interesting. That's what caught coach Ken Hitchcock's attention the most, especially considering the top teams coming up on the Blues' schedule.

"We took some penalties today that were undisciplined." Hitchcock said. "It's not the penalties that you take, it's who you take out of the game. All of a sudden your top players are killing all the penalties, young players who are playing really well, it took 9 [Jaden Schwartz] and 91 (Vladimir Tarasenko] out of the game because they didn't get the ice time they deserved based on their play. We have to find a way to include more people and part of that is remaining disciplined and working. We reached in three times and took penalties, and you don't want to see that.

Three of the NHL's best teams, the Penguins, Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche, come to Scottrade Center in the next six days. Hitchcock said he's looking forward to the challenge.

"I think quite frankly that who we play is going to give us no choice," he said. "I think when you're scared, you get scared straight. And I think when you've got a team like Pittsburgh coming in, if we don't play on the mark every shift, they're going to beat us, and I think our players are going to look forward to games like that, ones that are coming up here, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Colorado, these are going to be fun games and we're going to have to be on top of every part of our game to win them. We need that challenge right now, and I think we'll respond."

Who's hot: Crosby had a four-game points streak stopped by the Rangers, and Chris Kunitz's four-game goal-scoring streak also ended. However, Kunitz picked up an assist to extend his point streak to five games. Evgeni Malkin hasn't scored a goal in three weeks, but he has logged assists in his past three games. … Steen's stunning productivity has been fueled by his shooting efficiency. He has found the net 14 times in 49 shots on goal, compared with Stamkos' 13 goals on 54 shots or Ovechkin's 13 on 84. Goaltender Brian Elliott earned his 100th NHL victory Thursday. His shutout streak ended at 111:35 on Tim Jackman's goal 4:41 into the third period.

Injury report: Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis left the game in New York with an undisclosed injury but is probable for Saturday. Forward Beau Bennett (lower body) has been practicing and is questionable. … Blues forward Brenden Morrow (upper body) was placed on injured reserve and will not play, while forward Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) also remains on IR.

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