A lot can change in 24 hours, as the Pittsburgh Penguins just discovered.
One day after their top-ranked power play ran wild, scoring three goals in a 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay, the Pens came up empty on five opportunities in a 1-0 Sunday afternoon loss to the NHL-leading St. Louis Blues at Consol Energy Center.
A lack of power-play production doesn’t bear all the responsibility for Pittsburgh’s fifth shutout loss of the season, but it does help explain how the Penguins (46-20-5, 97 points) were unable to earn at least a point despite largely holding the Blues at bay.
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby – who combined for seven points against the Lightning – each got great looks at the net during the advantage, but Blues goalie Brian Elliott made the best of his 33 saves to keep the game scoreless.
Elliott had a couple more strong stops in the third on Olli Maatta and Malkin, keeping the score even until Blues captain David Backes redirected Alex Steen‘s point shot past Marc-Andre Fleury with 8:40 to go in regulation. The Pens generated frantic offensive-zone pressure in the closing minutes, but they couldn’t convert the few rebounds Elliott allowed.
Pittsburgh outshot St. Louis 33-27 and had the edge in shot attempts, too. Those are encouraging signs against one of the best teams in hockey, if not the finest. The Blues improved to 48-16-7 in snapping a rare two-game losing streak; they leaped into a tie with Boston for first (103 points) in the overall league standings.
With the Bruins on an 11-game winning streak, it’s almost assured that the Pens will finish with the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. If they hope to succeed in the postseason, they’ll need to be content playing games like Sunday’s, even though the result wasn’t what they wanted.
Pittsburgh starts another four-game week when Phoenix comes to town Tuesday night.