ST. LOUIS -- It was some fishing trip Dan Bylsma and Davis Payne had. Three days last summer casting and bonding, competing and brain-picking.
The good friends agree that, while Bylsma caught more, Payne got the bigger prize.
At least, that's what Bylsma wants Payne to think.
Bylsma, in his second full season as Penguins coach, hopes he surreptitiously gained some information that might help him overall and tonight when, for the first time, he squares off on the frozen pond against Payne, in his first full season as Blues coach.
Their teams meet at Scottrade Center.
"I would have rather caught his [big] fish than all my fish," Bylsma said Friday after the Penguins practiced at iceZONE.
Game: Penguins at St. Louis Blues, 8:08 p.m. today, Scottrade Center, St. Louis.
Probable goaltenders: : Brent Johnson for Penguins. Jaroslav Halak for Blues.
Penguins: Are 1-4 in past five visits to St. Louis. ... Mark Letestu led rookies with 4 goals and 7 points before Friday night. ... Evgeni Malkin has five-game points streak (1 goal, 5 assists.
Blues: Had lost three games in a row before playing Chicago Friday. ... T.J. Oshie had 4-game points streak (1 goal, 4 assists) before Friday night. ... Matt D'Agostini had 3 goals on 6 shots before Friday night. Of note: With 6 goals, 4 assists, 10 points in past 5 games, Penguins' Sidney Crosby moved into tie for NHL scoring lead going into the Friday night games.
"He's a good friend, but he's also a respected colleague. We spend a lot of time talking about personal stuff and our friendship, but we also spend a lot of time talking about hockey. It was a great three days. I think I learned five or six good things from Davis without him probably knowing that I learned them, and I would hope I taught him at least one thing."
Bylsma and Payne have been close since they played together for Greensboro of the bare-bones ECHL in 1992-93. Bylsma, 40, went on to play 429 NHL games, while Payne, 39, played in just 22 but has been working his way up the coaching hierarchy.
They were the youngest coaches in the NHL before Tampa Bay hired Guy Boucher, 38, in June.
Payne and Bylsma never have stopped comparing notes about hockey and follow each other's career closely.
Bylsma recounted staying up until 4 a.m. tuning in through the Internet as Payne guided the Alaska Aces to the 2006 ECHL championship, and Payne has told Bylsma he hung on every faceoff as the Penguins went to the NHL final in 2008 and '09, winning the Stanley Cup the second of those visits.
So the game tonight could be as interesting a chess match behind the benches as it is a clash on the ice.
"Yeah, like any athlete or coaches are, I certainly know that I want my team to beat the heck out of his, and he wants his to beat the heck out of ours," Payne told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It'll be fun. It'll be fun. ... There's a lot of history there between us. It'll be fun going head to head."
This won't happen often because the Penguins and Blues usually meet just once a season, but Bylsma, whose team is on a four-game winning streak, won't let things get too personal.
"It's not going to be any different," he said. "It will be a nod and a smile and a respect. I'm sure we'll talk about it before and after the game at some point, but our team's on a road trip and we want to get all three on the road trip, and we need a win [tonight] to do so, and it doesn't really matter who the coach is."
Regardless of the outcome, their friendship seems strong enough to remain intact.
These are guys who can keep secrets.
For example, that place they went fishing?
"We call it No-Name River," Payne said. "Won't ever tell, and won't ever give it a name."
Because they've shared so much philosophy about hockey and coaching, there is bound to be some inside information that goes into both teams' game- planning.
Bylsma has a bit of an advantage. He planned on getting a head start Friday night, thanks to an unusual Blues scheduling quirk. St. Louis has back-to-back night home games, and the Penguins staff scouted the Blues-Chicago game.
"We would normally get what we call the A game on tape, but when you get a chance to go in person, sometimes you like the feel of the game and see the tendencies," Bylsma said.
When they last matched wits, in pursuit of trout and salmon, Payne came out ahead on the river last summer -- sort of.
"There's a friendship there based on our past experience, but there's also great respect for Davis," Bylsma said. "I didn't catch the fish I wanted to, but I did catch a few tips, so it was good."
NOTES -- Defenseman Brooks Orpik (groin strain) is expected to return against the Blues after missing six games. ... Winger Arron Asham (shoulder) said he expects to be ready to play Wednesday when the Penguins play at Tampa Bay. ... Center Sidney Crosby and defensemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski were excused from practice for "maintenance days," but should be available tonight.