ST. LOUIS, MO - JANUARY 24: Scott Nichol #12 of the St. Louis Blues shoots the puck on goal against Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Scottrade Center on January 24, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
On Tuesday night, the Penguins took the winners' share of the spoils, and earned their seventh straight victory, 3-2 over the Blues after a shootout, on the strength of versatile offensive play and Marc-Andre Fleury's 32-save performance.
But for a second, take a step back from the result and consider what we saw on the ice.
The Penguins, with their north-south style, occasionally flipping the script and going east-west to work their way around the Blues' tight, harrying defense. They pelted all-star Brian Elliot's net to the tune of 39 shots on goal, a season high in shots surrendered for the Blues. Per game, the Blues surrender 26.2 shots, the lowest total in the NHL.
Funnily enough, the Penguins are second in this category at 26.6 shots against. And still, the Blues were able to test a very capable Marc-Andre Fleury 34 times, many of a higher quality than what the Penguins generated.
St. Louis generated much of their offense from the neutral zone, holding a 9-3 takeaway advantage against the Penguins. And both of St. Louis' goals came on chances created off of turnovers, both put away by Patrik Berglund.
For his part, Fleury was up to the task asked of him, pulling off a number of gasp-inducing stops near the end of regulation and in overtime.
If any Penguin deserves a break, it's Fleury, who has now played in 22 straight games. More importantly, he's played consistently solid in 22 straight games.
The shootout was tense, as shootouts are wont to be. Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz scored, so did T.J. Oshie. Using elite math skills, that's two Penguins and only one Blue, so the Pens steal an extra point. That's about all that needs to be said about the shootout.
On the whole, this was very much a tie. On the road against one of the hottest teams in the NHL, that's perfectly fine. This wasn't a steal or against the run of play. It was just two good performances from strong teams who went at each other blow for blow.
Evgeni Malkin and especially James Neal seemed up to their dominant tricks once again. Neal, in particular, shone brightly, skating up and down the ice as the game neared its zenith like a steam locomotive cutting through a sea of horse-drawn carriages. He opened the Penguins' account in the second period with a quick finish off of a -- brace yourself -- Paul Martin feed. Steve Sullivan made it two shortly after and it looked as though the visitors were on their way.
But Berglund bagged his brace, and the Blues were back in it. Brian Elliot's 37-save performance was only good enough for an overtime loss, but after a string of indifferent performances, he offered a reminder of why he's headed to Ottawa this weekend.
The Pens have a week off. Worst case scenario, the break stymies momentum. Best case? It gives the whole team some time to rest and dwell on a turnaround well done. I think it's safe to assume that the later is most likely.
EDIT: Oh, and Barret Jackman may have tried his hand at a little embellishment after a rather innocuous hit delivered by Matt Cooke near the end of the third period. Or Jackman may have slipped. Or something.
Maybe I'm just a Cooke mark now, but I think you can tell the difference between his look of confusion and innocence after this hit, and the type he'd give after throwing a blindside elbow in past years.