When: 1:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, NHL Network nationally
Opponent Track: St. Louis is an odd team to figure out. They’re just 2-2-1 in their last five in a recent flurry of games, losers of two straight including getting shutout 2-0 on the road in Ottawa on Thursday night. NOBODY loses to Ottawa these days. The Blues are also just 2-4-1 in the month of March, quite the slump considering their 12-1-1 record in February was so great.
Pens Refresh: Pittsburgh (as seemingly always) has been crushing it in the month of March, currently winners of three straight, six of the last seven and are 7-1-2 in the last 10 games.
Season Series: The Pens opened up a can and won 6-1 in the only other meeting of the year back on December 29th in St. Louis. Crosby, Riikola, Aston-Reese, Hornqvist, Guentzel and Malkin had the goals and Murray stopped 30/31 for the win.
Random fact: Due to a quirk in scheduling, this is St. Louis’ first visit to Pittsburgh since October 4th, 2017 - over 17 months ago. The reason that visit stood out? It was the Pens’ home opener so they did this.
SBN Team Counterpart: St. Louis Game Time
Big story: Blues sputtering without Tarasenko
Last game Pittsburgh benefited from a star player’s absence in Jack Eichel’s suspension. Today there will be another unexpected development for this game - Blues leading goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko is out with an injury suffered a few days ago. From STLGT on Tuesday:
The Blues just took five out of six points possible during a California road trip, but they lost more than that one game in OT. Vladimir Tarasenko, part of one of hockey’s best (and recently reunited) top lines with Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn, was injured on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings. He missed Saturday’s game against the San Jose Sharks, but it’s looking like he’s going to miss more than that.
Tarasenko’s out at least ten days with an upper body injury; after that point he’ll be re-evaluated. Currently Tarasenko is two goals off his fifth consecutive season with 30 or more goals and two points off of his fifth consecutive season with 60 or more points.
This will result in some line-shuffling, much like Schenn’s injury did. It remains to be seen if it will also result in the Blues looking a little more lost than usual. When the top line is together and healthy, there goes the team.
Unfortunately for them, the last paragraph about “looking a little more lost than usual” has been even more true than the modest qualifier of “little” hoped to concede. St. Louis has only scored a total of three goals in the last three games that Tarasenko has missed and they’re on a bad path; they scored 2 against SJ the first game he missed, then scored just 1 goal against Arizona in the second game Vlad was out and then as mentioned dropped again to 0 goals against Ottawa.
Repeat: this team just got shutout by the Senators. The same Senators who had given up 51 goals in their previous 12 games (or 4.25 per game). That’s....a really bad look for St. Louis. To be fair, they did out-shoot Ottawa 35-19 and it was a 1-0 game until an ENG against, but still. The Sens gutted their team and to not be able to score is unavoidably awful.
So will the Pens get a slumping Blues team on a sleepy afternoon? Or a pissed off playoff contender looking to right the ship? Your sense of optimism or dread might answer that question, but there’s no doubt STL really needs to hit a reset and be a lot better moving forward.
They Said it
From the Blues website:
“The effort’s there, the mindset’s there, it’s just that we’ve been snakebitten a little bit lately,” Allen said after the game. “Everything seemed to be going right for us in that 11-game [win 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 got goals, but they’ve been tough to come by.”
”We’re running into some tough luck right now with scoring,” Blues Head Coach Craig Berube added. “But you’ve got to battle through it. We’ve got to do a better job of taking the goalie’s eyes away and scoring some dirty goals.”
Player stats at a glance
—Ryan O’Reilly is having a great first season in St. Louis, he’s already set a personal season-high in assists and points, and is two goals away from tying his career-best year there too.
—Jaden Schwartz did score the team’s lone goal against AZ (and the last goal a STL player has scored two games ago, since did we mention they got shut out by the freakin’ Senators). But that’s his only point in the last 10 games. He’s having a really tough luck year, despite getting a lot of minutes and still enough helpers to suggest that he’s making plays. But his shots have just totally dried up.
He’s still shooting it’s just not finding the back of the net. This is the type of player a savvy GM would call and talk about acquiring. Every year he’s been healthy he’s in the range of 55-63 points and pretty steady with about 25 goals and 35 assists. Smart money says he probably gets back to that level next season too.
Who the hell is.....Jordan Binnington
A 3rd round pick of STL back in 2011, Binnington only had one NHL game on his resume before December of this year (and it was back in 2015-16). But he got an opportunity and really became a 2019 version of Johan Hedberg as a pretty much unknown goalie coming out of the minors to seemingly do no wrong.
Over January and February Binnington was 15-2-1 with 5 shutouts and a .941 save percentage. Just unreal numbers there to help fuel a tremendous run that put St. Louis in the playoff picture after a sluggish opening few months of the season.
But has the clock hit midnight on this Cinderella story? Binnington’s only won one of his last three starts, giving up nine goals on 68 shots (.868 save%).
Jake Allen, an up-and-down goalie, has been up lately, giving up only four goals in his last three starts (for a .951 save%). He was in net against Ottawa, picking up the loss but only giving up one goal before the ENG.
So that leaves a bit of a decision for coach Craig Berube as to where he should turn for this one. Binnington has cooled off his unreal run, Allen has been the better goalie of late but overall which one should play?
Brayden Schenn - Ryan O’Reilly - Robert Thomas
Jaden Schwartz - Tyler Bozak - Patrick Maroon
Zach Sanford - Oskar Sundqvist - Alex Steen
Mackenzie McEachern - Ivan Barbashev - Robbie Fabbri
Vince Dunn / Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester / Colton Parayko
Michael Del Zotto / Robert Bortuzzo
Injured Reserve: David Perron, Carl Gunnarsson
-Sad news about Perron who suffered a concussion. He has been skating and may be back soon, but he’s had some head trauma before and has seemingly been unable to take the last step and return to the lineup. Hopefully for health’s sake he’s feeling great soon.
-Red alert, red alert, Del Zaster sighting!!
-Sundqvist has done a nice job carving out a bottom-six role this season after being a fringe player last year.
And now for the Penguins...
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Jared McCann - Sidney Crosby - Jake Guentzel
Teddy Blueger -Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Dominik Simon - Nick Bjugstad - Patric Hornqvist
Joseph Blandisi - Matt Cullen- Garrett Wilson
Jack Johnson / Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson / Erik Gudbranson
Brian Dumoulin / ?
Expected scratches: Juuso Riikola (healthy), Chad Ruhwedel (upper), Bryan Rust (lower), Zach Aston-Reese (hip)
Injured Reserve: Olli Maatta (upper body
-Will the ? be Zach Trotman. Or Kris Letang? Possibly you? Find out soon!
-Similarly, Bryan Rust could spell Blandisi as soon as today, so we’ll see.
Key to the game
We try to avoid cliches here in this segment, but a start is key. Consider that it’s an afternoon game, it could be sluggish for one (or both) teams to get their legs going early.
But beyond the obvious, there’s logic in wanting to do well early. STL is 64 Goals For to 51 Goals Against in the first period of all their games this season. That +13 goal differential is their most impressive, they’re -6 overall for the second and third periods combined. Weather them in the first period, and you’ve already taken their best shot, or at least so says the 70 games on the docket.
When the Blues score first, they have a 28-7-4 record. When they don’t score first, it’s just 8-20-3.
When STL is up on the scoreboard after 20 minutes, they are 17-4-3. If they’re trailing at the first intermission it’s just a 3-11-3 record.
The Pens are also a very good first period team overall this year, with 78 GF to 62 GA. Falling behind hasn’t been a death sentence for Pittsburgh, who are a respectable 14-12-3 if they give up the game’s first goal. Still, that palls in comparison to 25-11-6 record if they are able to go up 1-0.
First period splits are also telling for the Pens, they’re 21-5-3 when up after 20 minutes compared to 7-13-4 if losing after one stanza. Pittsburgh has also been great at coasting to home with a 32-0-3 record if they’re winning at the second intermission. STL is just 2-23-4 if losing after 40 minutes.
So while this time of year, it’s pretty basic to just say “score the first goal, take a lead into intermission and never look back”, well, that’s a pretty good strategy to try and shoot for. Given STL’s goal splits in the 2nd and 3rd periods and their inability to pull a lot of comebacks, getting out in front is obviously a good place to be in this game. The Blues are a team struggling big time offensively and without the services of by far their best goal scoring talent. Start strong, get up 1-0, 2-0 and this one might sort itself out just fine.