ST. LOUIS – Some things this night were a surprise.
Winger James Neal returning to the Penguins lineup earlier than expected from an injury dating to opening night and picking up an assist, for instance.
Some things delved at least a little into the unknown, such as who exactly scored the winning goal in the St. Louis Blues’ 2-1 victory against the Penguins at Scottrade Center.
Still other things might have been predicted.
“The game was almost as expected – the tightness of the game and the matchups,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “And there wasn’t a lot [of opportunity] out there. Each team at times got the offensive zone time and shifts and some momentum that way.
“That game was identical to the way that you’d expect both of those teams to play.”
These teams don’t play often. Once or twice a season, and sometimes – as with last season when there was no interconference play after a lockout – not at all.
But in recent years their meetings have been close and tightly played -- the previous three had gone beyond regulation – and this was not much different.
Kevin Shattenkirk was credited with the winning goal in the third period on a shot from the right point, but it appeared that Vladimir Tarasenko might have deflected it downward. The puck trickled in off of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and barely across the goal line at 10:52 of the third period.
“I don’t know. I’ve got to see it again,” Fleury said when asked what happened on the shot. “Who got the goal? Was the guy in front? I want to see it again.”
Bylsma had seen it again.
“We looked at it several times and can’t definitively say whether it did [get deflected] or not,” he said. “It kind of goes by Tarasenko there. We can’t tell.”
The Penguins lost for the second game in a row and have just two goals over those two games, but they weren’t drawing comparisons to their 5-1 loss Wednesday against the Rangers in New York.
“No, just the way things have gone,” center Brandon Sutter said.
“This game was tight. Everyone on their team plays well without the puck and plays well defensively, so they’re hard to score goals against. We had our chances, but on the whole we should be a lot happier with the effort we had tonight.”
The Blues took a 1-0 lead at 2:52 of the second period when Ryan Reaves, from between the hash marks, steered a pass from Maxim Lapierre past Fleury, who was screened.
The Penguins tied it, 1-1, with a power-play goal at 8:06 of the second period. Jussi Jokinen, from the top left corner of the crease, steered a pass from Evgeni Malkin past Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
“That was a big play for us, and we had some chances after that, too,” Jokinen said. “Maybe the third period, they were the better team.
“These games, you don’t get many chances. We had to find a way to get those two, three, four goals. We played pretty good. We didn’t give them too much. But they are a good team.”
Malkin earned an assist on Jokinen’s goal to extend his points streak to three games, but those have all been assists. He has no goals in his past 10 games. St. Louis also shut down the Penguins’ other top center, Sidney Crosby.
Crosby has no goals against the Blues in seven career games. The only other teams he has not scored against, all in the Western Conference, are Edmonton (five games), San Jose (four games) and Chicago (two games).
Crosby had a golden chance with 3:45 left in the first period when he stole the puck from Blues center T.J. Oshie in the Penguins and, with Oshie in pursuit, drove down and launched a wrist shot. Halak deflected it wide. It was one of two shots by Crosby on the night.
Perhaps things might have turned out differently if Crosby had given the Penguins the lead then.
Still, this game wasn’t decided until the goal by Shattenkirk. Or Tarasenko.
Shattenkirk said his only aim was to get the puck toward the net and use Tarasenko as a screen.
“That's kind of my thought process,” he said. “As you get that puck and you're fading away, you know you're not going to get much on the shot, and when you see bodies going to the net, it's almost just throw it at the net and see if you can create some sort of battle that hopefully that we can win.
“With the way our team's built, we like to shoot pucks and go to the net and most of the time, good things happen.”
Even if those good things don’t come with a definitive label.
“We still don't know,” Shattenkirk said of who scored the goal. “We think someone might have tipped it, but for now, I'll take it.”
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.