By Dan Scifo
From the Point contributor
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t quite where they want to be with nine games to play before the playoffs.
But they’re hoping an inspired effort against a St. Louis team that is one of the best in the league can point them in the right direction as they battle injury, inconsistency and a goal-scoring drought that has led to a recent losing stretch.
Alex Steen scored the game-winning goal 35 seconds into overtime as the Blues rallied from a two-goal deficit with the final three tallies during a 3-2 victory against the Penguins Tuesday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“We’re trending in the right direction,” Penguins’ defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “But this was a game that I think we feel we could’ve won, and we let it slip away.”
Steen worked around Lovejoy on the game-winner, redirecting a point shot from former Penguins’ defenseman Zbynek Michalek past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
“We were battling on the boards and he was able to get inside position,” Lovejoy said. “I like to be trusted in those situations and tonight he was able to get position on me and score a big goal.
“I need to be able to stop that. That was my guy on the ice and it was my fault.”
Former Penguins’ Robert Bortuzzo and Marcel Goc also got into the act against their old team, each scoring their third of the season for the Blues. The Penguins traded Goc in exchange for Maxim Lapierre in January and shipped Bortuzzo to the Blues at the trade deadline for defenseman Ian Cole. Bortuzzo and Goc scored a combined six goals in 168 games with the Penguins.
“Certainly, lines that don’t normally score, you can’t let them score against you,” Penguins’ coach Mike Johnston said. “That was key. You can’t let the third and fourth line score against you at that time.”
Blake Comeau scored his 16th and Steve Downie netted his 13th for the short-handed Penguins, who lost for the fifth time in six games.
They also played without Evgeni Malkin for the fifth consecutive game, while Patric Hornqvist missed his fourth straight. Malkin and Hornqvist, who skated prior to Tuesday morning’s practice, account for 51 goals and 113 points. Johnston said he hopes Malkin, a former NHL MVP, and Hornqvist will be able to go this weekend for the Penguins.
Pittsburgh planned to play Tuesday’s game with seven defensemen and 11 forwards in part to support defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who has recently battled concussion issues and aggravated an undisclosed ailment in warm-ups Saturday at Arizona.
The experiment lasted all of 5:07 when Ehrhoff, who missed 18 games with a concussion, appeared to hit the side of his head after crashing hard into the end boards, shoulder-first, following a collision with Vladimir Tarasenko.
Johnston didn’t have an update on Ehrhoff.
The teams played a sluggish opening period-and-a-half, a slow-moving, defensive battle with limited scoring opportunities.
Comeau and Downie helped break it open.
The Penguins, coming off a recent four-game losing streak in which they were outscored 11-2, equaled their total during that stretch, scoring scored 17 seconds apart on their ninth and 10th shots of the game.
Daniel Winnik was on his way from the penalty box when he took a pass and rushed down the left-wing boards. He worked around Blues’ defenseman Petteri Lindbohm and centered a pass to Comeau, who squeezed a one-timer between the pads of Blues’ goaltender Jake Allen.
“It was a great play by Winnik coming out of the box,” Comeau said. “He had to fight a guy off his back and then we had a full two-on-one.
“He did a great job of having patience and got it across. Really, all I tried to do was get it off as fast as I could and it went in.”
Downie scored 17 seconds later, taking a feed from Nick Spaling at the top of the crease. Downie, with his back to Allen, turned to his forehand and banked a shot off his right pad and into the net.
A pair of former Penguins helped the Blues tie the game later in the period.
An initial shot squeezed through Fleury, triggering a net-mouth scramble. The rebound came out to Bortuzzo, who blasted a shot past a stick-less Fleury.
Goc scored less than three minutes later.
Fleury stopped an initial shot from Ryan Reaves, who powered to the net from the corner, but he couldn’t handle the rebound as Goc pounced from the top of the crease.
“We were playing pretty well,” Fleury said. “It was a bit of a letdown, just not playing the way we want and they got back into the game pretty quick.”
It was the momentum-shift the Blues needed to crawl back into the game and ultimately win it in overtime.
“We hung with them, got our goals and let them back in the second period,” Johnston said. “Their compete level went higher, our compete level stayed the same.
“Quite a few players played at a playoff pace. We still have four or five guys that need to pick up their compete level.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh has scored just seven times in the past six games. … The Penguins have gone six straight games without scoring in the first period. … Comeau has scored 12 of his 16 goals at home. … The Penguins visit Carolina on Thursday and host Arizona on Saturday.