Blues-Penguins Preview

After successfully stymieing opponents for much of this month, the St. Louis Blues have had trouble keeping teams off the scoreboard in the first half of a four-game trip.

They will likely need to solve those defensive struggles quickly with a matchup against the high-scoring Pittsburgh Penguins coming up.

The Blues will try to avoid their first three-game losing streak in 2013-14 by limiting the Metropolitan Division leaders Sunday.

St. Louis (47-16-7) allowed 15 goals during an 8-0-1 start to March and the acquisition of Ryan Miller certainly helped. The Blues got the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner from Buffalo at the beginning of the month and he went 7-0-1 with a 1.61 goals-against average in his first eight games with the team.

But Miller has given up a combined seven goals in the first two games on the trip. St. Louis is facing four teams that are currently in playoff position during that trek and fell 4-1 to Philadelphia on Saturday.

Along with its recent difficulties in keeping teams out of the net, the Blues have scored once on their trip after netting 29 goals in their first nine games this month.

Jaden Schwartz tallied that lone goal when Philadelphia had a man advantage early in the first period Saturday. The Blues outshot the Flyers 33-19 and 11-3 in the third period, but they also went 0 for 6 on the power play.

"Our level of determination in the offensive zone isn’t what it’s going to need to be to beat great goaltending," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We’re going to have to find a way to get to a much higher level of compete in the offensive zone. That shows up on the power play too."

With his team playing on back-to-back days, Hitchcock might put Brian Elliott in net for this game. Elliott is 2-0-1 with a 1.59 GAA in his last three matchups against the Penguins but hasn’t faced them since a 3-2 shootout loss in St. Louis on Jan. 24, 2012.

If he does start, Elliott will face a team that’s scored a combined 13 goals during a 2-0-1 stretch. Evgeni Malkin had two goals and two assists Saturday against visiting Tampa Bay but Pittsburgh (46-19-5) was forced to go to overtime for a 4-3 win.

The Penguins allowed the tying goal with 1:22 remaining in regulation, but James Neal gave his team a second point with a power-play score 87 seconds into the extra period.

"I think we realize we’re playing some good teams and it’s important for us to make sure we have that desperation and find that level of play that we want going into the playoffs," captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think that’s motivation enough."

Crosby and the Penguins had trouble cracking the St. Louis defense in the only other matchup this season, a 2-1 road loss Nov. 9. Kevin Shattenkirk scored the tiebreaking goal with 9:08 remaining.

The Blues are 3-0-1 in their last four games in the series and are making their first visit to Pittsburgh since a 3-2 overtime win Nov. 23, 2011.

After Jeff Zatkoff started Saturday, the Penguins will likely switch back to Marc-Andre Fleury for this matchup. Fleury is 3-1-1 with a 2.14 GAA in his last five starts against St. Louis.

The Blues haven’t dropped three in a row since March 24-28. They lost a season-high three straight on the road Jan. 31-Feb. 28.