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Penguins Report: Game Day at St. Louis

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

There’s only one rule in the Vitale household: “my dad's is you have to finish your pasta before you have any steak or chicken or anything else,” Penguins forward Joe Vitale said.

The Penguins players and staff learned that firsthand on Friday night after landing in St. Louis for their game against the Blues on Saturday, as Vitale’s parents Sam and Mary Ann hosted a team dinner at their home just outside the city.

Vitale, who was born and raised in the St. Louis area, comes from a big Italian family, and everyone – his mom, dad, five siblings (he is the third-oldest behind his two brothers and they have three younger sisters), in-laws and wife Brianna – worked together to help pull off the impressive feat of hosting 40 people at Joe’s childhood home for a meal that celebrated their heritage.

“They just did an incredible job,” Vitale said. “Everyone pitched in, they all made something. My dad was in his element, for sure, with all the guys there and serving up pasta and meatballs and bread and all that kind of stuff. So it was a great thing. I’m really glad it went well. It was pretty short, in and out. Guys ate well. Hopefully we didn’t eat too much (or) we’ll be sinking into the ice tonight (laughs).”

Everything was home cooked except for dessert, which was brought in from Coldstone Creamery. And the guys, who took the same bus that picked them up from the airport, cherished the opportunity to enjoy a delicious meal and cozy atmosphere while on the road.

“It was great,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “I don’t think you really get that opportunity to do that, I mean, there’s so many guys from all over the place. To have it work out where he’s that close to the city and that we could go over to his house, it was great to meet everyone in his family and it was a nice spread. We had the whole Italian deal. It was pasta, meatballs – we had it all. So it was a good night. Good to get all the guys together. Fun to see where Joe grew up.”

It was certainly a balancing act for Vitale, who also had his two small children – daughter Summer and son Harper – running around the house. But he was happy it all ended up working out.

“It was different because as a hockey player you have two different worlds,” he said. “You have your hockey world and you have your family world. Whenever those come together, it was a pretty weird thing. But guys were great. Everyone just settled in right away.”

--Michelle Crechiolo

Here's soundbites from both the Pens and the Blues...

--Michelle Crechiolo

Pics of the Pens practicing at Scottrade Center this a.m...

It seems like Beau Bennett will play tonight vs. St. Louis, but that has yet to be confirmed.

Sidney Crosby and linemates Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz will have a big challenge tonight in St. Louis' top line of Alex Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie

James Neal (aka "Lazy") skated on Evgeni Malkin's right wing during morning skate

Here's Neal sharing a laugh with Crosby. Duper looks left out

St. Louis native Joe Vitale hosted the team at his parents' home last night

Matt D'Agostini spent parts of four seasons with the Blues from 2009-13. He skated on the third line this morning, and Bylsma hinted D'Agostini might crack the lineup against his former team after being scratched in the Penguins’ previous four games.

Jokinen was waiting for Megna to lift a pass onto his blade

For whatever reason, I got a lot of photos of Neal today

Sutter with a big smile at the skate

Dupuis waiting for the rest of the team to get on the ice

--Michelle Crechiolo

Following the morning skate, head coach Dan Bylsma said Marc-Andre Fleury will start in net and the rest of the lineup will be game-time. Bylsma did confirm, however, that Martin is not available for tonight's game. With him out, the Pens have 6 D-men with Engelland moving back.

Bennett said on Friday that playing tonight would be the coaches' decision, and he reiterated that again today following practice. The Blues are known for being a physical team, but instead of that being a challenge for Bennett if he does play, he thinks that will actually help him. "Because getting hit early really gets you back into the game and that way, you know you’re in one and you’re not just floating around out there. So it’ll be good to get into a physical game, physical battle. We’ve just got to play our game and hopefully come out with a W."

That being said, Bennett doesn't want to overthink anything. "I’m just trying to get back in the swing of things. Try to get out there, play simple, play fast and try to play my game and hopefully our line will be clicking right off the get go."

Also, Neal told us that he feels "pretty good and I’m getting closer every day." Certainly positive news on the injury front for the Penguins.

--Michelle Crechiolo

The only player absent from Pittsburgh's morning skate was Paul Martin, who missed practice on Thursday and Friday (Chuck Kobasew and Rob Scuderi were officially placed on IR yesterday).

Neal and Bennett rotated on the right wing of Jokinen and Malkin's line during rushes. Former Blue D'Agostini, who had been a healthy scratch the last four games, skated on the third line with Glass and Sutter. Here's how the combinations looked...


With Martin missing, Engelland rotated with the five defensemen.

--Michelle Crechiolo

Tonight the NHL leader in points faces the League leader in goals. Penguins center 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, while 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.

Read the rest of the preview here, and watch Sam Kasan's scouting report below.

--Michelle Crechiolo


This is the first trip to St. Louis for myself and PensTV cameraman Mark Cottington. So ROOT SPORTS' Dan Potash, being the awesome guy that he is, took me, Mark, director of communciations Jen Bullano and color analyst Bob Errey to experience the city the right way with authentic St. Louis barbecue from Pappy's restaurant in downtown.

Potash is familiar with the area, as he comes here with the Pirates for their series against the Cardinals and spends a few days in the city each time. So he knew that we had to call ahead and make sure that Pappy's was still serving their ribs and other BBQed meats, since once they're out of food, they're done and they close down. Luckily, they  

All of our eyes were bigger than our stomachs when we saw how amazing the menu was, but none more so than Errey, who was starving and ordered a truly unbelievable amount of food (including a full slab of ribs and a pulled pork sandwich). Potash documented it on Twitter...

Good times. Thanks to Potash for taking care of us and taking us out! He's truly the best. Here are a few more photos from our excursion...

My combo platter! Ribs, pulled pork, sweet potato fries and fried corn.

The interior


You walk in and wait in line, order your food and pay for it, then they have a table waiting for your party once you're all set. It's an amazing system!

We made it just in time!!! They closed the restaurant as we were leaving!

This meal really deserved two thumbs up.

Moral of the story: if you're ever in St. Louis, go get ribs at Pappy's! And make sure to call ahead!

--Michelle Crechiolo

Good morning from St. Louis! The Penguins are in town to play the St. Louis Blues, which is a highly anticipated matchup between two teams who don't see each other very often and are currently dominating in their respective conferences. Both the Penguins (11-5-0) and the Blues (10-2-2) come into the game with 22 points, and they each rank in the NHL's top 10 in both offense and defense. In addition to that, Pittsburgh has the NHL points leader in Sidney Crosby (8G-15A-23P) while St. Louis has the NHL goals leader in Alexander Steen (he is scoring at an absolutely prolific pace with 14 goals in 14 games). There is so much I'm looking forward to about this game, and I'm intrigued to see how they measure up against each other.

The Pens are scheduled to hit the ice at 11:30 a.m. for morning skate after the Blues practice at 10:30 a.m. While we wait, here's a few notes going into the matchup...
  • Pittsburgh has won four of their last six road games entering tonight.
  • Tonight the Penguins and Blues are meeting for the first time since Jan. 24, 2012 when they also met here in St. Louis.
  • Pittsburgh is 3-0-2 in its last five overall meetings against the Blues. Each of the last three games between these teams have been decided in overtime/shootout.
  • The Blues haven’t defeated the Penguins in regulation since a 4-1 victory on Dec. 19, 2006 at Mellon Arena.
  • The Penguins are 2-0-1 in their past three visits to the Scottrade Center.
  • Pittsburgh and St. Louis met twice during the 2011-12 season, with Pittsburgh earning a 3-2 shootout win at the Scottrade Center on Jan. 24, 2012 and the Blues earning a 3-2 overtime win on Nov. 23, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center.
  • Between Nov. 5-12, the Penguins play just two games over an eight-day stretch (a 5-1 loss to the NY Rangers on Wednesday and tonight’s game).
  • Beginning with next Wednesday’s game against the Flyers, the Penguins will play 11 games in 18 days – including six on the road – from Nov. 13-30.
(Stick tap: Pens PR)

--Michelle Crechiolo
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