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Pietrangelo managing offense, defense in elite fashion

After all, the Blues' captain is in a contract year, so naturally the production would go up and set the 29-year-old up for a nice payday come July 1.
Credit: AP
St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (27) celebrates after scoring against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — Conventional wisdom would suggest that Alex Pietrangelo's torrid offensive numbers are no coincidence.

After all, the Blues' captain is in a contract year, so naturally the production would go up and set the 29-year-old up for a nice payday come July 1.

Happens in sports, not just in the NHL, all the time right? Well, coincidentally, it happens a lot, but this is hardly Pietrangelo's case with the Blues, the only team he's known at the pro level since he was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft.

The soon-to-be 30-year-old (Jan. 18) continues to add scoring at a torrid pace for the 26-10-7 Blues this season. In fact, Pietrangelo, who has 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) in 43 games, will surpass his career highs in goals (15 in 2017-18), assists (43 in 2013-14) and points (54 in 2017-18) with relative ease barring something unforeseen.

He's on pace for 23 goals, 44 assists and 67 points over an 82-game season and is currently fifth in the league in points while playing 24 minutes per game. Oh, and one way or another, Pietrangelo will be getting paid this summer and will be getting financial security not only in monetary fashion but with term as well.

Whether it's with the Blues or someone else, time will tell. But don't think for a second that the father of triplets is producing just to get paid. This has been ongoing now for years with impeccable consistency.

"That's just a coincidence," said Blues goalie Jake Allen, Pietrangelo's teammate the past seven seasons. "Petro's the type of guy that can play under any circumstance you can ever want. He's such a happy-go-lucky guy that you can throw into the fire in any situation in the world and he'd still play his game. I think that's what's so beneficial about him and how important he is. He rarely has a bad night. If he makes a mistake, he'll make up for it and those things that he does on the ice are really tough to replace. You see guys can have a continuous few bad games in a row, but with him, it's rarely. He just brings so much to his game as a whole, in a package that really leads this team. Offensively, he's taken it to another level."

Boy has he ever.

Pietrangelo's past four seasons have produced double-digit in goals; he's done that six times in 10 full seasons. The past four years have also produced 34, 39, 48 and now 23 assists. And in filtering into the offense, he's also so mindful of his defensive game.

Since his first full season in 2010-11, Pietrangelo is seventh among active defensemen in ice time at 24:50 and seventh in points (430). A guy that's been asked in the past to play against the opposition's top skaters and defend his own net, kill penalties, play in most 5-on-5 situations has been given the opportunity to be more active on the offensive end of the ice, on the top power-play unit and thriving.

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"I kind of go about my business, you know me," Pietrangelo said. "I think for me, I'm getting an opportunity this year. Before Chief [Craig Berube] coming in, I haven't really had an opportunity to play on the power play, get those opportunities. Five-on-five too, I think I'm generating chances and finding holes that I can really exploit on other teams. Partner-wise, I feel like I can play with anybody. I'm not really satisfied though. I want to keep practicing and keep getting better. That's what's kind of helped me this year. Whether I score or I have two goals, whatever it is, the next day I forget about it and that's always been my mindset. I just want to keep going. I'm just never really satisfied."

And by not being satisfied, Berube has played Pietrangelo in all situations since taking the reigns of the Blues, with good reason, and with a multitude of partners. But Berube is allowing the hungry veteran to excel.

"I think he's leading our team in plus-minus, isn't he," Berube said of Pietrangelo's plus-8, tied with four others for high team honors. "Or he's right there. That pretty much says he's a great two-way defenseman, no doubt about it. He's doing a fabulous job.

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"It's been a challenge for him, and I think it's been a challenge for the whole team and the coaching staff with the D at times this year finding partners, getting that comfortable partner. I know that Petro's had a bunch of different ones, but he just plays and does a good job. He understands it. He doesn't complain about it or say anything. He does what we ask. ... We want our D to be aggressive and hammering walls and being aggressive in the offensive zone, but there's got to be a fill for him as a forward. Everybody does a good job of that of what needs to be done at that time so our D can be aggressive like that."

Pietrangelo is in the last year of a seven-year, $45.5 million contract he signed Sept. 14, 2013, and he's rewarded the Blues with seven solid seasons that brought forth the best return of all and the ultimate prize of winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup. And while the Blues have signed Schenn to a contract extension and brought in Justin Faulk via trade and extended him immediately as perhaps insurance in case Pietrangelo leaves, Pietrangelo's situation is in limbo. But he made it perfectly clear he doesn't want to discuss contract talks between he and the Blues nor wants it to be a distraction while the Blues try and repeat, which they believe they can.

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Pietrangelo's primary focus is on the here and the now, and with the Blues leading the Western Conference with 59 points, it's a good place to be.

"I just kind of go out and play," Pietrangelo said. "Obviously I know what I'm doing. It's just continuing to find that balance between offense and defense. ... The way the game goes now, it's not a physical game anymore. It happens here or there, but mostly it's about defending well, positioning your stick and puck possession. I'm at my best when I'm defending with the puck and keeping the other team out of our end. I think when I'm feeling the puck and I'm being able to make plays, I'm sure 'Faulker' is going to say the same thing, I feel like I have an opportunity to defend better because I can get out of the zone quicker. The quicker you get out of the zone, the harder it is for the other team to score."

And that attention to detail is what's making this offensive outburst that includes 17 power-play points, or two more than last season in 71 games, all the more impressive.

"I don't think I've seen him this good offensively since I've played with him, and I've played with him in World Juniors," Allen said. "I think me and him have been the longest drafted guys here now. [David] Perron's come and gone, so I've probably seen Petro more than anyone.

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"He's stepped up his offensive game to another level. He was always a solid offensive player. You can count on him to contribute 40 points a year, play on your power play, 5-on-5 he'll pitch in, but I think this year he's taken it to another level, and he's shown that. I think he's playing with confidence, instincts, with something to prove. He's really stepped his leadership up that way I think. What's impressive, and I have to be honest, his shot is getting better. I've noticed it a lot in practice, so I think that's really helped his game. He's getting opportunities. The power play, he's playing a lot of minutes for us. He's obviously logging 23-24 minutes a game, so he's getting his chances, he's making the most of it. Good for him. He's been the leader of this team for a long time and he's really shown it."

Pietrangelo's season is worthy of Norris Trophy discussion, and if not for what John Carlson (13 goals, 39 assists) is doing for the Washington Capitals, Pietrangelo would be right there in the discussion with Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators (14 goals, 30 assists), Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning (nine goals, 30 assists), Dougie Hamilton of the Carolina Hurricanes (13 goals, 24 assists) and Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens (12 goals, 20 assists).

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But there's one big difference between Pietrangelo and those other candidates, according to teammate Brayden Schenn, and one factor Pietrangelo can't help.

"He plays a lot of minutes every night, plays in all situations," Schenn said. "He absolutely deserves to be in that conversation. St. Louis is a small market and that obviously always seems to have an affect one way or another, but if you get to watch him every single night, he's having a heck of a year for us. We have a lot of season to go, but we sure hope he's in that conversation."

Allen added, "He definitely should be in it. I don't know how they do the polls. It's out of my league, but I think if you asked a lot of the hockey people in the hockey world, I would not be surprised if he's not in the top three. He should be. If you ask a lot of the GM's around the league, if you sat down with them, you'd probably have that consensus. If the season ended today and the NHL awards are here, I'm sure he'd be in the top three at least. People know him around the league as a solid 5-on-5 player, a solid two-way defenseman and this year, obviously with his numbers, I'm not sure of his points but I know they're up there. He's in the top three no question. I'd put some money on that. That's all I need."

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Pietrangelo brushes off the talk of awards and such. None of it matters anymore. Why? Well, winning the Stanley Cup trumps all else, and as Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, a teammate of Pietrangelo's for Canada at the international level during the Olympics, said, respect among your peers is equally as important.

Oh, and winning it all matters most. Getzlaf, a Stanley Cup champion in 2007, would know.

"He's definitely top-tier in our league for sure," Getzlaf said of Pietrangelo. "He's been doing a lot of good things for a lot of years here. When you play in a system like this, you're not going to get that attention grab all the time. I think he got all the attention he wanted last year when he won."