Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
As they are in St. Louis, expectations in Pittsburgh are high concerning their under-performing hockey team, struggling to get and then somehow stay above the line that separates playoff contenders from playoff pretenders. The Penguins are currently below that line. Despite the presence of big guns Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang, the Penguins' offense, currently ranked 22nd of 30 in the NHL with 2.43 goals per game has been in a funk since day one. The exhausted, worn-out roller coaster Blues are not much better, ranked 21st with 2.46 goals per game.
Pittsburgh was shut out in Dallas on opening night and lost to Montreal in their home opener, 3-2. In their first eight games, the Pens only managed to score 11 goals in regulation time. However, Pittsburgh managed a 4-4-0 record in those eight games as they only allowed 16 goals against thanks to the excellent play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. In 31 games now, Fleury has a 2.28 goals against average, 16 wins and .930 save percentage with three shutouts.
Fleury's statistics are slightly better than the Blues' current savior in net, Brian Elliott, who stole the game Saturday from the Montreal Canadiens with a brilliant career-high 46 save performance in front of a SRO crowd of 19, 501 on Goalie Heritage Night. Ironically, Elliott's 46 saves were the most by a Blues' goaltender on home ice since Curtis Joseph made 46 saves in a 5-1 victory over the Minnesota North Stars in April, 1993. Elliott has now allowed 2.41 goals against per game with a .919 save percentage and eight victories in 16 starts. He, along with rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington, was virtually the only Blues player to show up in a horrid team loss to Carolina and played quite well in recent wins against New Jersey and in Los Angeles. Elliott also made 25 saves on 27 shots in a shoot out loss at Anaheim, coming in cold during the second period when Jake Allen was injured after a collision in the crease with the Ducks' Corey Perry.
It was a particularly gratifying night for the Note's number 1, who was undoubtedly inspired by the presence of some of St. Louis' best net minders in Blues' history, including Mike Liut, Grant Fuhr and fellow Wisconsin alum Joseph. Elliott paid tribute to his boyhood idol by sporting a new mask with two trumpets on top and Blue Notes on the chin with the music sheet. A snarling, rabid dog appeared on the back of the mask, along with Elliott's signature moose and the University of Wisconsin logo. Elliott was quite the dashing figure in goal, also sporting dark blue custom pads honoring Cujo's old Heaton pads worn in the early 1990s.
The battered and beleaguered Blues put on quite a show against the Canadiens, coming from behind twice to finally win in overtime as Jori Lehtera scored after Robby Fabbri worked the puck into the offensive zone. Fabbri scored the first goal of the game for the Blues at the 34 second mark of the first period, assisted by Lehtera and Vlad Tarasenko, who has now gone five games without a goal. The Russian sniper's last goal, his 24th, came in an overtime loss in Denver on January 7. Rookie winger Ty Rattie scored his second goal (and fourth point) in seven games and Patrik Berglund earned two assists, giving him six points in eight games. The lanky Swede has scored three goals since returning from a severe shoulder injury.
The one-goal victory over Montreal was the resilient Blues' 24th one-goal game, half of the 48 games played before tonight's marquee match up with the Penguins. Nine of these one-goal games have been in regulation time as St. Louis is 5-5 in overtime and 3-2 in shoot outs. What is really amazing is that the Blues have won 15 of these 24 contests, only losing two in regulation and seven in bonus time. That translates to 37 of a possible 48 points. Wow! And they have won 3 of 4 bonus-time games with divisional rivals, running their record against Central Division teams to 10-5-1 for 21 out of 32 possible points, outscoring them 45 to 40. St. Louis has also won 18 of 26 games against Western Conference competition with two bonus-time losses, only losing six in regulation. That bodes well for the future as after tonight's game, the Blues only face Eastern Conference teams nine more times during the regular season. St. Louis is currently 8-9-5 against the East.
It will certainly be good to see defenseman Ian Cole back at the TradeStocks Center. Drafted in the first round, 18th overall, by the Blues in 2007, Cole has struggled this season with the Penguins. The U.S. National Team and Notre Dame alum has not scored a goal and has only recorded four assists in 43 games, with a team worst minus-17. The trade GM Doug Armstrong made for Robert Bortuzzo is looking pretty good in hindsight. However, we will not see another 2007 first round, 26th overall, Blues' draftee. David Perron was traded just two days ago along with defenseman Adam Clendening to Anaheim for winger Carl Hagelin. The under performing former Blues' winger only scored four goals and 16 points in 43 games with Pittsburgh and was a minus-13.
After tonight's match, the Blues will travel to Detroit, Denver and Chicago before the much-needed All-Star break. The eight day layoff couldn't come at a better time.