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Postgame Perspectives: Don’t Sell PK Short; Reliving the Rivalry?



Pittsburgh Penguins Teddy Blueger

The Pittsburgh Penguins have hit upon a foolproof strategy for limiting how many power-play goals they give up.

They’re staying out of the penalty box, and even the most prolific power-play unit can’t score if it doesn’t get on the ice.

The Penguins took just two minors, tripping calls against Jan Rutta and P.O Joseph, during their 6-2 victory against St. Louis Saturday at PPG Paints Arena.

The Blues didn’t score on either of those opportunities, the ninth time in the past 10 games that the Penguins did not yield a man-advantage goal.

Although killing penalties was a glaring liability through the early weeks of the season — the Penguins yielded at least one man-advantage goal in nine of their first 11 games — it is becoming the asset many expected it to be.

A lot of factors have contributed to the Penguins’ shorthanded success of late, but one of the most obvious is the return of Teddy Blueger, whose return from the Long-Term Injured list 10 games ago coincided with the Penguins’ current run of penalty-kills.

“Obviously, Teddy was missed when he was out of the lineup,” Mike Sullivan said. “He’s one of our better penalty-killers. But the other guys, I think, deserve a lot of credit, as well. They’re competing hard out there, doing a lot of the little things.”

Brock McGinn, Ryan Poehling and Josh Archibald joined McGinn as penalty-killing forwards against the Blues.

A rivalry revisited

St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington was born a full two decades after the Penguins-Blues rivalry peaked in the early-to-mid 1970s. but he brought the spirit of guys like Bob and Barclay Plager, Bugsy Watson, Bob Gassoff and Al Smith, among others, to the game Saturday.

Smacking Jason Zucker in the face with his glove as Zucker skated around the St. Louis net late in the first period, which could have passed as an outtake from “Slap Shot,” was the kind of stunt that could — no, would — have sparked a bench-clearing brawl between the Penguins and Blues in those days.

Then again, Binnington seems intent on inflaming passions on every team the Blues face.

Just two nights earlier, for example, he had initiated contact with Carolina center Jordan Staal behind the goal line, as Staal was just gaining possession of the puck.

Binnington, whose play was a huge factor in St. Louis’ Stanley Cup championship in 2019, quickly discovered that stepping into a guy who is 6-4, 220 pounds and makes a slab of granite seem flabby isn’t particularly wise.

In any case, no less a figure than St. Louis coach Craig Berube — who ranks seventh on the NHL’s all-time penalty minutes list with 3,149 — believes Binnington’s ultra-aggressive actions of late are over the top. And even counter-productive.

“It doesn’t help anything,” Berube said. “Just play goal. Stop the puck.”

That’s good advice, assuming Binnington truly is interested in avoiding things like the epic fight Smith and Bob Plager had under the Civic Arena scoreboard in 1971.

The seating situation

The Pittsburgh Penguins will close out a run of five consecutive games at PPG Paints Arena when Columbus visits Tuesday at 7:08 p.m.

If that game attracts a sellout crowd, it will be the only one of the homestand.

In fact, it would be just the fourth in 12 home dates this season.

That’s not necessarily as dire as it might seem, however.

The seating capacity for hockey is 18.187, and at least two other games came within a few dozen fans of becoming a sellout. A crowd of 18.149 turned out for their 2-1 shootout victory against Calgary Nov. 23, and 18.166 fans were present three nights later for the 4-1 loss to Toronto than opened this homestand.

And it’s not as if the Penguins are going to threaten the franchise-low average turnout of 6,839 — a figure team officials subsequently acknowledged had been inflated — set in 1983-84. The smallest crowd in 2022-23 has been 15,895, the turnout for their 4-3 victory against Vegas Thursday.

Although NHL teams generally announce attendance as tickets-in-circulation, as opposed to actual bodies-through-turnstiles, the crowd of 17,330 for the Blues game actually seemed a bit low, based on a visual scanning of the turnout.

Perhaps it’s just that more people who had tickets showed up than is usually the case.

Switching ’em up

Kasperi Kapanen’s hat trick and the strong play of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ second line got most of the attention Saturday, but it should not be overlooked that, with Kris Letang recovering from the stroke he suffered last Monday, the coaching staff still is trying to settle on defense pairings.

Brian Dumoulin, who had started the previous two games on the No. 1 pairing with Jeff Petry, was replaced by Marcus Pettersson against the Blues.

Dumoulin was deployed with Jan Rutta, while P.O Joseph partnered with Chad Ruhwedel.

Dumoulin and Rutta were on the ice for the goal Pavel Buchnevich scored from near the right-wing boards, while the Joseph-Ruhwedel tandem was there for Vladimir Tarasenko’s breakaway goal.