It has been all about the response of late for the Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting St. Louis Blues heading into their meeting Saturday.
Pittsburgh reeled off five consecutive victories late last month, then stumbled through a 4-1 loss last Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That was followed Tuesday by a 3-2 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes that left the Penguins fuming over what they thought was a blatant missed penalty call in overtime, which led to the Hurricanes’ winning goal.
Pittsburgh then fell behind 2-0 on Thursday against Vegas, one of the top teams in the NHL. But before the Penguins let things get away, they responded with a highly-competitive 4-3 win over the Golden Knights.
The Penguins came back to tie the game against Vegas, falling behind again early in the third period, pulling even once more before winning it in an inspiring way.
The game-winning goal midway through the third period came from winger Kasperi Kapanen, who had not scored in 13 consecutive games and had struggled to the point of being a healthy scratch for a stretch.
“He’s trying to play the game the right way,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s trying to leverage his speed as best he can.
“Obviously, we’re thrilled for him that he got rewarded.”
That wasn’t the only point of inspiration for Pittsburgh, which was playing its first game since it was revealed that top defenseman Kris Letang will be out indefinitely after having a stroke. It was Letang’s second stroke in eight years.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said thoughts of Letang helped push the team to the win.
“I think you see the way the guys competed and rallied,” Crosby said. “I’d like to think we have a lot of effort every night, but it seemed there was a little bit more urgency and desperation.”
The Blues were soaring with a seven-game winning streak into the week of Thanksgiving, but that rush of victories has faded with losses in four of five games.
The slide includes a 6-4 loss at home Thursday against Carolina that included plenty of ups and downs. St. Louis went up 2-0 early in the second period, gave up three goals in a span of 1:04, tied it, then fell behind by two. They pulled within 5-4 with under a minute remaining then gave up an empty-netter.
That is how it has been of late for the Blues.
“We’re competitive,” Blues center Robert Thomas said. “We’re in every game. … Games like (the one against Carolina) are going to happen.”
Games like that have been too frequent for St. Louis’ taste. In the first three losses since the five-game win streak, St. Louis was outscored by a combined 15-5. The lone victory in the last five games came in a 5-4 overtime decision last Saturday against the Florida Panthers.
“It seems like anytime we lose a game, it’s usually five to 10 minutes where we give up a few chances that ultimately lead to goals,” St. Louis defenseman Torey Klug said. “That’s what we’ve got to clean up.
“It’s up to us to learn from those mistakes sooner (rather) than later. Otherwise, we’re going to keep falling behind. We’ve got to make an adjustment there.”
A recent bright spot offensively for the Blues has been forward Jordan Kyrou, who has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) over the past 10 games.
–Field Level Media