There is a popular saying in Pittsburgh when the Pirates win; “Raise the Jolly Roger!” Tonight, after 16 wins in the postseason, the Penguins get to raise something of their own, a second consecutive Stanley Cup banner.
After the ceremonies, they will face a Blues team that has some new faces and some new challenges of their own. The Blues are coming off a second round exit at the hands of the Western Conference Champion, Nashville Predators.
These two teams made a notable trade on draft night. A fan favorite in St. Louis, Ryan Reeves, went to Pittsburgh along with a draft pick, and going to St. Louis would be a young center in Oskar Sundqvist and the 31st pick in the first round. The Blues would use that for Klim Kostin.
Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues
Allen is coming off a year where he hit near rock bottom, but rebounded. His numbers at the end of the season were a respectable 32-20-5 with a 2.42 GAA and a .915 save percentage. He played in 61 games last season, his first as the number one goalie in the Gateway City.
Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
Murray’s last two times on the ice were shutouts in Game 5 and Game 6 of the Finals. Murray was an injury concern, especially down the stretch, and missed significant time in the playoffs. He would start 47 games and finish with a 32-10-4 record with a 2.41 GAA and a .925 save percentage.
|Vladimir Sobotka||Left Wing|
|Vladimir Tarasenko||Right Wing|
|Jake Guentzel||Left Wing|
|Conor Sheary||Right Wing|
Three keys to the game
Physicality – The Blues lost a bunch of their muscle over the last two years. Under Mike Yeo, they play a faster and more skilled game. One of their big bruisers is now for the opposite team in this one in Ryan Reeves. The Pens like to mash bodies, especially in the defensive zone. This one has the makings (to borrow a wrestling reference) of a good ol’ fashioned slobber knocker.
Stretch passes – With Yeo having a full training camp under his belt in St. Louis, the Blues will try to use this more often this season. Look for guys like Tarasenko, Schwartz, and Tage Thompson to be lurking around the Pittsburgh blue line.
This also goes for the Pens. Crosby and Co. are no stranger to the stretch pass, especially against teams who like to press the issue at the blue line. Pittsburgh’s defenders are as skilled as any in the league in making those 60+ foot passes on the tape of a streaking forward.
Discipline – Over the course of the preseason, stick infractions were called at an alarming rate. The ability for both teams to stay out of the box will be crucial to their success. On the plus side of all these whistles, seeing power-play units with Tarasenko, Schenn, and the cannon for a shot called Colton Parayko go head to head with Crosby, Kessel, and Letang will be fun to watch.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 3-2 St. Louis
The Penguins are just too talented. The Blues have scoring in Tarasenko and Schenn, but the losses of Alexander Steen and Robby Fabbri will be felt. Depth center Patrik Berglund and Jay Bouwmeester will also affect the Blues in keeping up with Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel.
Jake Allen will be the key to this game. If his mind is right at the beginning of the season, the Pens will need magic to score. If he is just a little off his game, Carter Hutton could see time. The Penguins are dangerous, but the Blues defense is tough. One man will decide this game, and he does not wear black or gold.
Ways to watch:
Nationally: NBCSN at 8 p.m. eastern, NHL.TV, NHL Center Ice, and the NHL App.
Locally: fans in Pittsburgh can catch the game on Root Sports, while the game will be aired on Fox Sports Midwest in St. Louis.
Radio: In Pittsburgh: 105.9 The X
In St. Louis: KMOX 1120 AM
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