Gameday- Pens visit the St. Louis Blues

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 23: Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins controls the puck in the third period as Barret Jackman #5 of the St. Louis Blues defends on November 23, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. St. Louis defeated Pittsburgh 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

St. Louis Blues 29-13-6 (64 points, currently 4th in the West)

122 goals for, 99 goals against

Last 10 games: 8-1-1

Pens’ record vs. STL in Season Series: 0-0-1 (Blues won 3-2 in OT on November 23)

Leading Scorer: David Backes- 37 points in 48 games (16 goals, 21 assists), 77 PIMs, +16
--Backes presents an interesting challenge- he's got strength and size in spades and knows how to go to the net and score goals. The former Team USA star will be a handful for the Pens defense.

Unsung Stud: David Perron- 23 gp, 17p (4g + 13a) 12 PIMs, +9
--Nice to see Perron recover from a concussion that kept him out of the action for 13 long, frustrating months. Perron's not only back, he's scoring at a great clip. For Pens fans who know the trials and tribulations of Sidney Crosby and concussion symptoms, it's a great story to see another talented and young player be able to bounce back and get back in the game after so much time away.

SB Nation Partner blog: St. Louis Gametime

The Good: Ken Hitchcock has the Blues at a 23-6-5 since taking over in early November, a positively Byslma-esque record. Hitchcock's teams are always excellently coached, shaped to play tough defense and be in position at all times. The Blues have totally bought into his concepts and are executing his systems to a T. Before losing their last game in Detroit, the Blues were rolling on an eight-game winning streak. In those eight games, they shut out opponents four times and conceded only eight goals. So yeah, they're capable of playing really good defense.

The Bad: It's grasping, but in the past four games St. Louis has only scored seven goals. And they lost their last time out, so this isn't an unbeatable team and it's not really a high-powered offensive one, either. The Blues only have six players with 10+ goals, so they also don't have that one superstar that can find an extra gear and carry them, so instead the rely on a very balanced and disciplined team game.

Old Friends:
The Blues do not employ any former Penguins on their roster. They do have Brett Sterling on their minor league team; however in an earlier NHL stint this year, the pint-sized forward went pointless in four games.

Fight Watch: Ryan Reaves, Scott Nichol, B.J. Crombeen, Chris Stewart …..Deryk Engelland, the recently recalled Steve MacIntyre

-The Blues rank 10th in the NHL with 24 fights on the season (the Pens are currently 9th with 25 fights), so with both teams in the top 1/3 of the league, gloves could drop. In the first game of the season, Reaves and Engelland squared off, so look for that to be a potential rematch tonight.


Hidden Stat: If it's a low-scoring game, it's one the Blues are comfortable in and happy to play- in the past 12 games the Blues have played, there has been five or more total goals scored just twice.

Hidden Stat Part II: Alex Pietrangelo has dressed for 28 games that the Blues have won, and in those 28 games he has but two penalty minutes. Pietrangelo's played in 19 losing games (regulation, OT or shootout) and has 18 penalty minutes. It probably doesn't correlate, but if he takes a penalty, St. Louis has been more apt to lose this season.


PensBurgh 3 Keys:

1 - Get to Elliott - Presumably Brian Elliott plays tonight with his ridiculous numbers this season (15-5-1, .937 save %, 1.68 GAA, 5 shutouts). Elliott is an all-star and playing all-star caliber goalie in front of a Ken Hitchcock defense. In his career, Elliott's had success against Pittsburgh, going 4-1, including the OT win earlier this season.

2- Whose grinders can add more? With guys like Backes, Stewart and TJ Oshie, the Blues can play a hard-nosed, tough game. The Pens will need their guys like Matt Cooke, Eric Tangradi and Chris Kunitz to get in similar high-traffic, front of the net type battles. Whichever team is willing to pay the price and can earn a dirty goal or two very well could be the one that ends the night a victor.

3- Focus and finish strong. After today, Penguin players (minus Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang) have a five-day vacation for the all-star break. A lot of these guys will be going out of town- be it to a tropical beach or maybe across the continent to visit with family members. They all deserve the R&R, but there is a job at hand tonight. Hopefully no one has checked out a day early; it's going to take a premiere effort to go on the road and pull a win out against a tough team like St. Louis.

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