After a break from their gauntlet of a schedule, the Pittsburgh Penguins (39-23-9) have another test of their urgency today with the un-hated St. Louis Blues (36-27-7) at PPG Paints Arena. St. Louis is yet another playoff team, but the Penguins continue to rip through their March schedule, despite significant injuries. The Penguins are 9-2-2 in their last 13 games.
March has been a historically pivotal month for the Penguins in recent years and this year looks no different, as our Dan Kingerki noted this looks like the March of the Penguins II.
St. Louis currently holds the first wildcard in the Western Conference and maintains a five-point lead in the playoff race. They look likely to make the playoffs but have only 10 points their last 10 games.
Yesterday’s practice provided positive news on the injury front for the Penguins. Several key players look close to returning just in time for the playoffs. However, neither Kris Letang or Bryan Rust will play today. The Penguins have lost a total of 180 man games to injury…and counting.
Matt Murray will man the net for the Penguins. Murray is 24-11-3 with a 2.78 goals against and a .917 saves percentage. St. Louis will turn to Jordan Binnington. The 25-year old goaltender has gathered some Calder trophy hype for his performance this year.
The Penguins didn’t fall for a ‘trap game” against the Buffalo Sabres in a 5-0 win, Thursday. After a quiet first period for both teams, the Penguins erupted for three goals in the second and never looked back. Phil Kessel (24) showed signs of returning to form and scored on the power play to open the scoring 6:40 into the period. It was just Kessel’s third goal in 22 games but also his second in the past two. Brian Dumoulin (3) and Patric Hornqvist (17) scored two minutes apart to round out the scoring in the period.
The Penguins stifled Buffalo in the third period to prevent any late-game heroics from a desperate team. Nick Bjugstad (11) sniped a shot from the right circle, and Jake Guentzel (36) added a late goal to conclude the scoring for the game. The loss was Buffalo’s third straight goalless effort.
The win helped the Penguins keep pace in the Metro after New York and Washington both won Thursday as well. A huge factor in the win was goaltender Casey DeSmith, who played in his first game since Feb. 21. DeSmith saved 26 shots and looked locked in from the drop of the puck. Head coach Mike Sullivan sung DeSmith’s praise after the game
Sullivan also praised his captain, Sidney Crosby in the win. Crosby quietly collected his 58th and 59th assist of the year, Thursday, and has been on an absolute tear recently.
St Louis lost their second straight game and was shutout in a 2-0 loss to Ottawa. St Louis submitted a 35 shot effort in the loss but couldn’t crack Ottawa goaltender Andres Nilsson. Chris Tierney (9) and Christian Wolanin (4) scored goals for Ottawa. Jake Allen started for St Louis and stopped 19 of 20 shots.
Notes: After the Penguins top power play unit confounded Mike Sullivan the week prior, the Penguins scored three of their five goals against Buffalo on the man-advantage to improve to 5 for 8 over its past two games. The Penguins have scored at least one power-play goal in seven of their eight games during the month of March (11 for 29). The Penguins are the lone NHL team converting at over 30% on the power play this month.
Olli Maatta (Upper-Body, IR)
Kris Letang (Upper-Body, Skating)
Bryan Rust (Long term, Skating)
Chad Ruhwedel (Long term)
Zach Aston Reese (Long Term)
David Perron (Upper-Body)
Carl Gunnarsson (Lower-Body)
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||12.5% (12th NHL)||80.0% (9th NHL)|
|New York Islanders||20.0% (8th NHL)||87.5% (4th NHL)|
Expected Penguins Lines
|Jared McCann||Sidney Crosby||Jake Guentzel|
|Bryan Rust||Evgeni Malkin||Phil Kessel|
|Dominik Simon||Nick Bjugstad||Patric Hornqvist|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Matt Cullen||Garrett Wilson|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Jack Johnson||Justin Schultz|
|Marcus Pettersson||Erik Gudbranson|