Surging Penguins take aim at sagging Blues
After a stretch of 10 games against fellow Eastern Conference teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins face a lot less familiar opponent Saturday when the St. Louis Blues of the Western Conference visit PPG Paints Arena.
Pittsburgh (39-23-9, 87 points) is clinging to third place in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind first-place Washington, but not yet assured of making the playoffs.
"Every point right now is crucial," Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin said.
Pittsburgh has won three games in a row and six of its past seven.
"When we're playing our best hockey, it's hard to stop us," Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist said. "Right now, it's clicking for us, and we just have to make sure we get better every day and keep this momentum alive."
Penguins captain and leading scorer Sidney Crosby continues to drive the narrative as he injects himself into the Hart Trophy conversation.
He has at least one point in nine of the past 10 games, with eight goals, 19 points in that stretch. Expanding the view, he has 31 points in the past 17 games.
"He's just such a great player, such an accomplished player," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think this is his favorite time of year. He's shown an ability to elevate his game when the stakes are the highest. ... It doesn't surprise me that he's at the top of his game right now.
"He's the heartbeat. When he's on top of his game, I think everybody else just falls in line."
St. Louis (36-27-7, 79 points) could use a corresponding spark. The Blues have lost three straight (0-2-1).
Both teams are coming off games Thursday against teams out of the playoff chase, with decidedly different results.
Pittsburgh dominated the Buffalo Sabres for a 5-0 road win. St. Louis lost 2-0 at Ottawa, the worst team in the NHL at 24-41-6 (54 points).
St. Louis fell into a wild-card spot in the Western Conference with Thursday's loss.
"The effort's there. The mindset's there. It's just that we've been snakebitten a little bit lately," said Blues goaltender Jake Allen, who made 19 saves against the Senators. "Everything seemed to be going right for us in that 11-game stretch (a winning streak Jan. 23-Feb. 19). You have those points in the season, and then after that it's been tough. There's been a couple games where we've gotten goals, but they've been tough to come by."
St. Louis has three goals in its three-game losing streak and two or fewer goals in nine of its past 11 games.
"We're running into some tough luck right now scoring, but you've got to battle through it," coach Craig Berube said. "We've got to do a better job of taking the goalie's eyes away and scoring some 'dirty' goals."
It doesn't help that two of the Blues' top three goal scorers, Vladimir Tarasenko and David Perron, are injured. Perron has resume skating.
"Those are to high-end skill guys who know how to put the puck in the net," St. Louis defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. "Having said that, we've had guys in and out (of the lineup) and we've been able to put up goals in other stretches. ... We'll find ways."
The Blues have had a diet heavy in Western Conference teams. They had played within their conference five straight games before the loss in Ottawa. This month, they have faced four teams either in, or fighting for a playoff spot, and three that are far out of the race.
"It doesn't matter who we're playing right now," Allen said. "Teams that are in the playoffs or are out of the playoffs - they're playing loose, and everyone's playing for something."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 15, 2019