Penguins feeling blue after loss to St. Louis
By Rob Rossi
Published: Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 10:57 p.m.
ST. LOUIS — So this is what the Penguins could look like.
Well, up front, anyway.
Actually, they could look better than this, too.
“With our team, we want to come in waves, with intensity, and we have the guys to do that,” right winger James Neal said.
The Penguins had all of their offensive guys, and they played with intensity — but their waves did little damage against the St. Louis Blues' barrier-like defense in a 2-1 loss at Scottrade Center on Saturday night.
Neal and Beau Bennett, in returns from respective 15- and 11-game absences, contributed three of the Penguins' season-low 20 shots.
Only five of those shots came in the third period, where a first-goal credited to Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk broke a 1-1 tie.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (30 saves) said he was not sure how that puck snuck by him, only that he felt it bounce strangely off a seldom-hit spot on the right leg pad.
The Penguins (11-6-0, 22 points) have lost consecutive games after winning four in a row, but coach Dan Bylsma is pleased with the response by his players after a 5-1 loss at the New York Rangers on Wednesday night that left a lot of people disgusted.
Bylsma now has three days, two of which will feature practices, to work with the forwards he and general manager Ray Shero figured could become regulars.
Perhaps nobody associated with the Penguins will appreciate the return of Neal, a former 40-goal scorer, more than center Evgeni Malkin, who has gone 10 games without a goal. Neal is his regular right-side sniper, and Malkin — so rattled by his recent run without goals that he has tried wearing all new equipment — looked invigorated against St. Louis.
His sharp feed set up left winger Jussi Jokinen, whose eighth goal on a second-period power play pulled the Penguins even, 1-1. Neal also assisted.
Malkin had scored only two goals and recorded just nine points since Bennett — Neal's initial replacement on the second line — was injured Oct. 12.
The injuries to Neal and Bennett did more than just mess up Malkin.
A fourth line that had showed promise was broken up to fill vacancies throughout the lineup.
So, in addition to Malkin welcoming back Neal, whom he affectionately refers to as “lazy,” center Joe Vitale — playing for the second time in his native St. Louis — embraced a reunion with wingers Tanner Glass and Craig Adams.
“When we talked about the quality of our fourth line, I don't think you're going to see them match the effectiveness of a (Sidney) Crosby line or a Malkin line,” Bylsma said, “but they were playing well to allow me to roll four (lines).
“We counted on them. I can count on them to play against just about anybody.”
The Penguins' 17th game provided Bylsma a first chance to actually test the projected third line.
Matt D'Agostini, playing in only his third game, had missed the opening 10 games because of a lower-body injury sustained in training camp. Bennett was already injured when he returned for two games before serving the previous four as a healthy scratch.
Brandon Sutter has played with eight different wingers this season, but Bylsma's wish is for a third line to settle with D'Agostini to the left and Bennett to the right of Sutter.
That was the look against the Blues — and if not for Rob Scuderi's broken ankle and Paul Martin's absence for reasons undisclosed, the Penguins would have looked like the squad constructed by Shero.
Bylsma still has enjoyed only three full periods with his top six defensemen healthy. “We're getting healthier,” Bylsma said.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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