By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Remember how the talk around the Blues a year ago was how paltry their home record was? That seems like an eternity ago now.
The Blues were so bad on home ice at the outset last year, that opposing teams couldn't wait to step foot onto the ice surface at Scottrade Center.
In their first 21 games here (discounting the 'home' game in Sweden against Detroit), the Blues began 4-14-3 on home ice. Not exactly the way to pave a path to a successful and playoff season.
Don't look now, and nobody is trying to jinx the team, but heading into today's 7 p.m. tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Blues have reeled off nine straight wins here and have allowed two or fewer goals in eight of them, including Friday night's 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
"For the start we had last year here and for us in the locker room, it's tough enough to win on the road," forward T.J. Oshie said. "These games at home have got to be a place where we can come and we know ... it might not work out that way all the time, but going in, we want to win and we're confident that we can win here. Make it hard for other teams to come in this building, especially early (in the season). It might put a doubt in another team's mind.
"Our fans are unbelievable. From the very beginning when everyone starts singing the national anthem, that really gets me going. To come to our building, we want to have an identity that we're a tough team to beat at home."
Blues coach Davis Payne jokingly called it the 'Tiger Slam.' Where a streak from one year carries into the next.
"Two majors the year before and now two majors this year," Payne joked. "... We know how we want to play here. We know that there's certain advantages to being at home with the last change and the energy that's in the building. We have to use that to our advantage. I think the guys understand that there's a direction that we can play with here, there's a way that we can use that to our benefit and we've done a pretty good job with that so far. It should be a tough building to come in and play in, especially with the effort that the fans out forward."
The lone game the Blues allowed more than two goals? Against Anaheim, a 6-3 victory which was Keith Tkachuk's final game of his career.
But for the Blues, the key ingredient is not to think about the last game, just focus on what's immediately in front of them.
"It's obviously important, but we don't try to really look at the past and say we've done this, or we've done that," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "We try to focus on trying to get better today and make sure we're ready to play tonight. We've got a tough test with the Pens coming in here.
"However, you definitely want to make it a tough place to come into and try to get points. You want to establish your ground and play your game for a full 60 (minutes). I think we've done a good job with doing that and we want to continue to do that."
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After the emotions of winning over the defending Stanley Cup champs, Payne says there should be no problems with gearing up to play the Penguins, who won the Stanley Cup two years ago and are proverbial favorites to be at or near the top once again.
"I don't sense that that was a crowning achievement," Payne said of Friday's win over Chicago. "We beat a good hockey team, yeah, but we also understand that we're here to work at a certain level, we're here to execute a certain level and if we do those things, we should expect certain results, and that's what we expected last night. We show back up to work here today and ready to go to work. I don't think there's any real high or low. It's part of the type of attitude that we have to have around here. We shouldn't be surprised by that."
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The Blues, who only had nine skaters on the ice this morning, will throw out the same lineup as Friday:
David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-Brad Boyes
Alex Steen-Jay McClement-Matt D'Agostini
Brad Winchester-Vladimir Sobotka-B.J. Crombeen
The d-pairings will not change, which means Tyson Strachan will once again be a healthy scratch:
Eric Brewer-Roman Polak
Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo
Carlo Colaiacovo-Erik Johnson
And Jaroslav Halak, who knocked the Penguins out of the Eastern Conference semifinal in seven games with Montreal last season, gets the nod again tonight after backstopping 23 of 25 shots against Chicago Friday.
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The Penguins (5-3-0) come in looking to extend a four-game winning streak. The Blues snapped Chicago's four-game winning streak and will look to do it to another opponent tonight.
Pittsburgh, dealing with a number of injuries, will roll out the following lines:
Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Pascal Dupuis
Mike Comrie-Mark Letestu-Evgeni Malkin
Matt Cooke-Maxime Talbot-Tyler Kennedy
Eric Tangradi-Craig Adams-Mike Rupp
Aaron Asham (shoulder) could make his season debut Wednesday in Tampa Bay. And Jordan Staal (foot infection) is practicing and skated here again Saturday with no issues but his return is indefinite.
The d-pairings include Brooks Orpik (groin strain), who's missed the past six games. He makes his return tonight, which means Andrew Hutchinson will be the odd man out. And Zbynek Michalek is still nursing a shoulder injury.
Paul Martin-Kris Letang
Alex Goligoski-Ben Lovejoy
Brooks Orpik-Deryk Engelland
Former Blue Brent Johnson (4-0-0 with a 1.49 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage) will start in goal for Pittsburgh. Blues fans can recall when Johnson went on a tear in the playoffs in 2001-02, when he helped the Blues knock Chicago out in five games, posting three shutouts.
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