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Pittsburgh vs. St. Louis Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (5-4-2-12) vs. St. Louis Blues (5-4-0-10)

Where: Scottrade Center
When: Saturday, November 1, 8:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here


Man Down: Sidney Crosby left the Phoenix game in the third period with an undisclosed injury. He has been listed as day-to-day, so his status for Saturday’s game is unknown. If he can’t play, then the Penguins will have to overcome losing the best player in the world. No easy task, but this may be the gut-check that gets Pittsburgh going.

Answer the Adversity: Slow starts are nothing new to the Penguins. Right now, Pittsburgh is looking to put together that complete game to build on. The current four-game road trip has been rough on the team, but as head coach Michel Therrien said, you build character by reacting to adversity. It’s time for Pittsburgh to show some urgency.

Start Strong: Pittsburgh had a great second period against the Coyotes, and were still in the game until the final five minutes. The Penguins need to focus all their efforts are starting the first period strong, and then try to build on that and sustain the momentum. They need to rev the engine in the first period as if it is the third period.
The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs only three times in the franchise’s first 37 years of existence. But the team missed the postseason the last three years. St. Louis committed to a youth movement after hiring John Davidson as president of hockey operations. Davidson and general manager Larry Pleau avoided signing high-priced free agents with the belief that the team will become a contender with the maturation of its own prospects. The team suffered a huge blow to its top prospect in the summer when 2006 No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson tore his ACL and MCL in a freak golf cart accident (seriously, check it out). He was forced to have season-ending surgery.

St. Louis started the season by winning four of its first five games. The team has cooled since then, going 1-3-0. The matchup with the Penguins will be the Blues seventh straight home game. Pittsburgh hasn’t won a game in St. Louis in over a decade and has its own injury issues to deal with.
St. Louis scored 202 goals last year, ranking 26th in the NHL. The team netted a league-low 47 power-play goals. The Blues will need more production from their top line: Paul Kariya-Andy McDonald-Brad Boyes. The Blues signed Paul Kariya to bolster production last season but he only netted 16 goals (his lowest career total in a full season). However, he did register 49 assists to tie for the team lead in points (65), and will be motivated to prove last season was a farce. Boyes established himself as a sniper with career highs in goals (43) and points (65). Boyes has been burying setups from the veteran McDonald, who is tied for the team lead with 12 points (1G-11A) in nine games. Keith Tkachuk has rediscovered his scoring touch, netting eight goals in nine games.

But if the Blues want to make some noise this season, they’re going to need their young players to carry a heavier load: players like Cam Janssen, D.J. King, Jay Clement, David Backes, David Perron (2007 first-round pick) and Lee Stempniak. The last three mentioned each netted 13 goals last year. Stempniak would like to get back to the 27 he scored two seasons ago.

Two rookies that will get some attention this season are first-round picks T.J. Oshie (2005) and Patrik Berglund (2006). Oshie tallied 142 points in 129 games with the University of North Dakota. Berglund is a skilled winger that played in the Swedish Elite League last season.
Injuries have depleted the St. Louis defensive corps. 18-year-old Alex Pietrangelo, the No. 4 overall selection this past June, earned a roster spot out of training camp. Pietrangelo has been recently sidelined with a neck and knee injuries, but he may return on for the Pittsburgh game. The loss of Johnson means the Blues don’t have much of a scoring threat on the blue line. They do, however, have three quality defensemen in Barrett Jackman, Jay McKee and Eric Brewer. The trio won’t light up the scoreboard but are reliable in their own zone. Brewer, the Blue Notes captain, was the key piece in the Chris Pronger trade and is one of the most underrated defenseman in the league.

Youngsters Roman Polak (22) and Steve Wagner (24) and veteran Mike Weaver have a heavy workload due to the injuries. Wagner has some offensive abilities and could help on the power play. He is returning from a broken leg that cut his campaign short last season. Polak is seeing the most extensive NHL action in his career. Weaver, who may be the smallest defenseman in the league at 5-foot-9, is trying to solidify a spot on the Blues roster.
St. Louis is operating a goaltender-by-committee at the moment with Manny Legace, Chris Mason, Ben Bishop and Marek Schwarz. Legace signed in St. Louis to be the No. 1 guy after being a backup in Detroit for six seasons. He notched a 27-25-8 record with a 2.41 GAA, .911 save percentage and five shutouts last year. Chris Mason was traded to St. Louis last season after he lost the No. 1 job in Nashville to Dan Ellis. Legace appeared to be the choice in the early part of the season, but has been sidelined by a hip injury. Mason will get his chance to prove that he’s worthy of being a starting goaltender in the National Hockey League, and will likely get the nod against the Penguins.
Goaltender Chris Mason starts his first full season in St. Louis after being acquired last season, and will have a chance to become the No. 1 goalie. Veteran defenseman Mike Weaver, the lone offseason signing, will see extension action in St. Louis. The Blues are building through their system. Instead of re-signing veterans Jamal Mayers, Martin Rucinsky and Ryan Johnson or snatching a top-tier free agent, the team decided to go with young, homegrown players like Oshie, Berglund and Pietrangelo.
Boyes had his coming-out party last season when he scored a team-high 43 goals. He also registered 22 assists for 65 points (tied for team high) and a plus-20 rating. He plays on a line with Kariya, who has really become a great setup man, and McDonald. The team is relying on him to continue his goal scoring production, and at 27 years old, he may be entering the prime of his career. Boyes’ picked up where he left off last season, scoring seven goals in the Blues first eight games this season. He’s lethal anywhere on the ice and is a dangerous trigger man on the power play.
“There’s an outside chance he could be available to us Saturday.”
- Head coach Andy Murray on Alex Pietrangelo
11: The number of years since Pittsburgh last defeated the Blues in St. Louis (a 4-3 victory on Dec. 12, 1997), going 0-4 in that stretch.
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