St. Louis Blues Opposition: Pittsburgh Penguins

The St. Louis Blues are after what the Pittsburgh Penguins have – championships. So much so, that the Penguins are the blueprint for how the Blues want to play.

Although the St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins came into the NHL at the same time, they have not had as much to do with each other. The Blues have had much more in terms of rivalry with other expansion teams.

The Blues developed a rivalry recently with the Los Angeles Kings due to playoff runs against the other. They were big time rivals with Philadelphia in the teams’ early years due to the same circumstance.

St. Louis also had a strong rivalry with the Minnesota North Stars, mainly due to the proximity of the teams. That has carried over to the Dallas Stars as well.

Despite the lack of animosity between the two teams over the years, the Blues have not had the same success as their Steel City counterparts. Whether in terms of star power or pure team success, Pittsburgh is where the St. Louis wants to be – the pinnacle of the NHL.

The Penguins took over the league back in the early 90’s. With all-time greats like Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr paired together, they won two Stanley Cups.

Then, the Penguins picked another power duo in Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They got two more championships with that pairing.

Nov 25, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) moves the puck against pressure from St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis has had plenty of star power over the years of their own. It just hasn’t been quite on the level of what the Penguins.

Their team success has not come close either. The Blues have not made the league finals since the early 70’s.

Now, St. Louis is trying to match the Penguins success by using their playbook. St. Louis jettisoned some rougher players and bigger bodies in an attempt to emulate the speed game the Penguins have used to win their most recent title.

Whether it works is yet to be seen. The Blues are determined to make it work though.

Offseason

Based on the header, you can tell the Pittsburgh Penguins have not picked up any players. Their general manager, Jim Rutherford was upfront when saying the team had absolutely no cap space for signings way back at the draft.

The Penguins had a very quiet summer, even though they were expected to make some moves. Most notably, people figured the goaltending situation would be sorted.

With Matt Murray coming off a championship run and a very team-friendly salary for this season, most thought he would be handed the reigns. With so many teams needing help in net, it was a sure thing Marc-Andre Fleury would be sent packing.

May 22, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) tries to make a save as the puck hits off the post on a Tampa Bay Lightning shot during the third period in game five of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center. Tampa Bay won 4-3 in OT. Mandatory Credit: Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

Trouble with a sure thing is it’s not always sure. Fleury is still in Pittsburgh and they are still in the seventh level of cap hell.

The team is currently $3 million over the salary cap. Complicating matters for the future, the Pens have plenty of long term, big dollar deals coupled with a lot of restricted free agents coming up.

In terms of players gone, the Penguins just couldn’t find enough players to drop. Gone are Ben Lovejoy and Jeff Zatkoff.

Zatkoff was an expendable goaltending piece, though he could have been retained if Fleury was not still on the roster. Lovejoy provides almost no offensive production, but was a steady defender with a strong physical presence. He may be missed by a team that can be outmuscled at times.

There is no envy for Rutherford’s position. However, if he can get the cap sorted out, he still has one of the most offensively talented teams in the league.

Penguins Outlook

Pittsburgh would have finished on top of the Eastern Conference in almost any normal year. It was only a special regular season by the Washington Capitals that robbed them of that. Pittsburgh winning the Stanley Cup will soften that blow, I’m sure.

Looking to the future, there is little reason to think the Penguins will not be in a similar situation in 2016-17. They return all five players that scored 50 or more points the previous season.

They still have a goaltender in Fleury that won a Stanley Cup. Whether he is relegated to a backup role or not, they also have a hot, young netminder in Murray, who just won a championship as well.

The Penguins are no slouch defensively either. They don’t wow you with hits or brute force, but only two other playoff teams in the conference gave up fewer goals than the Pens did.

Combine all that together – torrid scoring, good defending and dependable goaltending – and you’re looking at another run for a Cup.

That said, Pittsburgh’s problem has always been consistency. With the exception of their back-to-back Cups in 1991 and 1992, they usually manage to not live up to the hype the following year.

There is almost no way the Penguins do not make the playoffs. Making the playoffs is not good enough though and it is up to the players on the ice and a coach in his first full season with the team to not have a title hangover like years past.

On paper, the only problems the Penguins face are the salary problems the management team must deal with. Games are not played on paper though.

Blues Games

The Blues may not have the hardware, but they have gotten the best of Pittsburgh over the years. The Blues are ahead in the series 78-58-18.

Even during the Penguins strongest years, the Blues have been able to get the better of them. Pittsburgh’s best run against St. Louis was in the prime of Lemieux’s career in the 90’s.

St. Louis is coming off a decent showing against the champions last season. The Blues split the series in 2015-16.

The Blues won their home game 5-2. They then lost a squaker, 4-3 in Pittsburgh.

This year the Blues will be looking to take both games. They won’t have to wait long for that chance, once they get their opportunity.

St. Louis will travel to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, January 24. They’ll then face the Penguins quickly in a rematch on Saturday, February 4.

On paper, there doesn’t seem to be much comparison between the two rosters. We all love the Blues, but in terms of production, the Blues don’t have the scoring.

As stated earlier, games are not played on paper. The Blues are trying to emulate the Penguins and we’ll see how they measure up in the winter.

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