NHL Network and ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes will offer his pluses and minuses for big games each week throughout the season.
Two of the hottest teams in the NHL face off when the St. Louis Blues play the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; TNT, NHL LIVE).
The Blues (19-9-5) have points in 12 of their past 14 games (9-2-3) and are coming off a 6-4 win against the Minnesota Wild in the 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic on Saturday. The Penguins (18-8-5) have won eight games in a row.
Here’s my breakdown of the game.
Pluses: Whether it’s been Jordan Binnington, Charlie Lindgren or Ville Husso in net, they’ve gotten good goaltending night in and night out. And they look much better on the back end with defensemen Torey Krug, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk and rookie Scott Perunovich.
Vladimir Tarasenko has been great this season after the forward played 34 regular-season games the past two seasons because of a shoulder injury. He leads them with 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 33 games. And forwards Jordan Kyrou (32 points), Pavel Buchnevich (30 points) and Robert Thomas (25 points) each has made a huge impact.
Minuses: I have no negatives for them right now. They rank in the top six in the NHL in goals scored per game (3.45, fifth), power-play percentage (29.5 percent, third) and penalty killing percentage (83.9 percent, sixth) and have all parts of their game in sync.
Pluses: Tristan Jarry is having a Vezina Trophy-like season. He’s 15-5-4 with a 1.93 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and three shutouts in 24 games and is a big reason the Penguins have allowed the fifth-fewest goals per game (2.48).
Guys are filling in nicely with all the injuries and COVID-19 protocol issues that they’ve had. With Sidney Crosby limited to 19 games, Jake Guentzel leads them in scoring with 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists) in 25 games. Evan Rodrigues, who has seen his role expand, is second with 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 31 games. And Kris Letang continues to fly under the radar, but has scored 22 points (one goal, 21 assists) and is plus-9 in 27 games.
Minuses: After getting Jarry and forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Teddy Blueger back from COVID-19 protocol, they will have key pieces back for this game, but still are without forwards Jeff Carter (COVID-19 protocol), Jason Zucker (lower body) and Evgeni Malkin, who is nearing a return from June knee surgery.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Speed and depth of Penguins
2. 200-foot game of Blues
3. Who do Penguins match against Blues’ top line of Tarasenko, Ivan Barbashev and Buchnevich?