It’s a holiday weekend and a big weekend for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but not just because it’s New Year’s.
The Penguins (16-13-4) have back-to-back home games, Saturday against the St. Louis Blues and Sunday against the New York Islanders. A sweep of those games could put the Penguins within sniffing distance of the playoff line.
St. Louis (18-16-1) will be coming in on short rest after a 2-1 loss Friday against the Colorado Avalanche.
The game starts a little after 7 p.m.
The Penguins have been here before – a nice little stretch of games that make it seem as if the team has gotten things on track. Right now, that’s a 5-1-1 stretch, including a 7-0 demolition Wednesday of the Islanders in New York.
Up to this point, the Penguins have followed strong little stretches of games with some backsliding, so it remains to be seen how they will respond this time.
One thing to watch, and a theme all season, is the power play. The Penguins seemed to turn things around for the better for a handful of games, but now are 1 for 15 over their past three games. They will be facing a Blues team that is tied for the league lead with nine shorthanded goals.
The penalty kill, however, bolstered by the return from injury of Noel Acciari, is 11 for 11 over the past four games.
Winger Radim Zohorna missed practice Friday because of illness but is expected to be available Saturday.
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The Blues, like the Penguins clawing to get into the playoff picture, had won three straight before Friday.
Since interim Drew Bannister replaced Craig Berube as coach Dec. 12, St. Louis has won five of seven, with both losses coming when St. Louis could muster just one goal.
The Penguins, in all likelihood, won’t have to see goaltender Jordan Binnington, who started Friday. Joel Hofer is expected to take the second half of the back-to-back. He has set career highs in saves twice in the past two weeks.
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk is not expected to play. He got hurt late in Friday’s game and remained in St. Louis for evaluation.
Expected Penguins Lines
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Rikard Rakell
Reilly Smith-Evgeni Malkin-Drew O’Connor
Radim Zohorna-Lars Eller-Valtteri Puustinen
Jansen Harkins-Noel Acciari-Jeff Carter
Ryan Graves-Erik Karlsson
Marcus Pettersson-Kris Letang
John Ludvig-Chad Ruhwedel
Expected Blues Lines
Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Jordan Kyrou
Jake Neighbours-Brayden Schenn-Kasperi Kapanen
Brandon Saad-Kevin Hayes-Alexey Toropchenko
Mackenzie MacEachern-Oskar Sundqvist-Sammy Blais
Nick Leddy-Colton Parayko
Torey Krug-Tyler Tucker
Marco Scandella-Scott Perunovich
Penguins Special Teams
Penguins power play: 13.3%, 27th
Penguins penalty kill: 83.0%, 9th
Blues power play: 10.7%, 32nd
Blues penalty kill: 79.4%, 17th
The Penguins are 5-2-0 in their past seven games against the Blues, 8-3-1 going back to Feb. 4, 2017.
This is the first of three home games in a row, with four of the team’s next five games at PPG Paints Arena.
Kris Letang is coming off a six-assist night Wednesday against the Islanders and has nine points (1 goal, 8 assists) over his past two games.
Marcus Pettersson had a career-high four assists Wednesday against the Islanders and has eight points, all assists, over the past four games.
Evgeni Malkin, who had two goals Wednesday against the Islanders, has 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists) in 22 career games against St. Louis.
Rickard Rakell, who struggled most of the season to score, has a three-game point streak and has goals in back-to-back games.
Sidney Crosby, with 1,537 career points, is two shy of tying Joe Thornton for 12th all-time in the NHL.
Erik Karlsson is one assist shy of 600 for his career.
How to Watch Penguins Game
TV: SportsNet Pittsburgh
Radio: 105.9 FM The X