PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 4: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning reacts to his goal with Martin St. Louis #26 in front of Marc-Andre Fleury #29 and Joe Vitale #46 of the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 4, 2013 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHL on NBCSN: Lightning’s Stamkos continues scoring race vs Penguins


NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Tampa Bay Times Forum at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Perhaps the scariest part about the Pittsburgh Penguins this season is that they’re still a threat to win even with some of their big names injured. James Neal and Sidney Crosby are out, but the Penguins still have Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla.

They played their previous five contests without defensemen Paul Martin or Kris Letang and they still won three of those matches.

At this point, Pittsburgh has already locked up its division and the only question is if it can claim the first seed.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is out of the playoff race, but that doesn’t mean this game is pointless. This will be a key test for goaltender Ben Bishop as the Lightning see if he can be just as successful with them as he was with Ottawa.

The Lightning traded away Calder Trophy candidate Cory Conacher to get Bishop and so far the move has paid off. However, Pittsburgh will arguably be his greatest challenge yet.

Bishop has only played against the Penguins once before and he was yanked halfway through that contest after allowing three goals on 20 shots.

This is also another key game in the Rocket Richard Trophy race. Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos is tied with Alex Ovechkin at 26 goals each. Stamkos has played in one less game, but given how hot Ovechkin has been lately, he needs every advantage he can get.

With 50 points, Stamkos is also attempting to surpass the injured Crosby and potentially win his first Art Ross Trophy. His teammate Martin St. Louis is also a candidate for the Art Ross Trophy with 49 points. St. Louis hasn’t won the award since 2003–04, so it would be special to see the 37-year-old reclaim it after that long of a gap.

Beyond that, the Penguins are going to battle hard in this game. Even if they don’t have much left to compete for from a seeding perspective, they want to avoid a third consecutive first-round exit. They can help prevent that by building momentum that they can carry into the playoffs.

At that point, they might have all their big-name players back and the Penguins will look even more dangerous…

Probable goaltenders: PIT – Marc-Andre Fleury (20-6-0, 2.31 GAA, .917 SV%) | TBL – Bishop (10-7-0, 2.35 GAA, .928 SV%)

Top scorers: PIT – Crosby (15-41-56, 36 GP) | TBL – Stamkos (26-24-50, 39 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Pittsburgh – Forwards: Neal (concussion), Crosby (jaw) Defensemen: Martin (hand), Letang (toe/groin – might return tonight)
Tampa Bay – Defensemen: Victor Hedman (lower body), Mattias Ohlund (knee) Goaltenders: Anders Lindback (ankle)

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”