Coming on the second night of a back-to-back, the Phoenix Coyotes didn't appear to have the rust one would expect from them - perhaps it was that Friday night's "effort" in Dallas was fairly putrid, all things considered. The Pittsburgh Penguins, fresh off a game in Anaheim, also looked pretty sharp, so maybe it was just something in the air at Jobing.com Arena. It could have been the rather impressive crowd, announced at 14,642 (I'd approximate 40% Penguins fans all told). Unfortunately tonight, the Coyotes couldn't do what they were so adept at last season - win a game in the shootout.
Well the crowd was certainly treated to a fine game - the Coyotes jumped out to an early lead on a pretty goal from Eric Belanger on a nice feed from Wojtek Wolski early in the first. Only a few minutes later Radim Vrbata would make it 2-0, as he scored while getting tripped and the net getting knocked off its supports. A short review confirmed the call on the ice of a goal and it looked as if the Coyotes were going to continue their recent success against Pittsburgh. However, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma stemmed the momentum a bit by pulling Marc-Andre Fleury for Brent Johnson, and Johnson was definitely much sharper in net.
The tide turned a bit early in the second period when the Penguins, or more aptly Sidney Crosby capitalized on a huge gaffe by Derek Morris in front of his own net. There were a few plays like this made by the Coyotes where they failed to make a simple pass by basically missing the puck on the follow through, and this one proved very costly. Just a few minutes later, Pittsburgh's other sniper Evgeni Malkin potted a nice goal on a rebound to tie the game at 2.
Wojtek Wolski continued his big night (hopefully the start of some bigger play from him) by scoring a bit of a fluky goal later in the second period, but penalties again came back to bite the Coyotes as they have throughout the season and the Penguins capitalized in the last minute of the second to tie the game at 3. That was the rest of the scoring through regulation and overtime and the game would go to the shootout where Mark Letestu scored the only goal, beatin Ilya Bryzgalov through the 5 hole on the 3rd Pittsburgh shot after Bryz stopped Crosby and Letang. Vrbata, Wolski and Lauri Korpikoski were the Phoenix shooters.
A few more notes on the game, bullet point style.
- During the stretch at the end of the second period that led to the Penguins third goal, Ilya Bryzgalov made a few remarkable saves including a stone cold rob of Crosby on a back door type feed;
- Sami Lepisto and Martin Hanzal who were whistled for the penalties that led to the 5-on-3 advantage were both fairly displeased with the calls; Hanzal's looked like he hit the guy a bit high and didn't keep his elbows in enough, Sami's looked a bit more questionable.
- During the OT, Oliver Ekman-Larsson was whistled for a holding penalty with a little over a minute to go, mere seconds after Sami Lepisto was the recipient of a slew-foot from Pascal Dupuis. As Coach Tippett said in the presser after the game, that should have either been 2 calls or no calls. The Coyotes have been shorthanded in OT more than any other team I can remember recently and the calls are going one-sided against them. Earlier in the OT, one of the Coyotes forwards was clearly interfered with (borderline roughing really) and nothing was called. Some consistency would be nice.
FIVE FOR WINNING:
Lacking Discipline: I wish I could say it was just the young guys, but the entire team seems to be totally unable to stay out of the penalty box. It's especially bad when they kill their own momentum. Several times they've coughed them up right after they score a goal or after some sustained pressure that sees things start to go their way. All they seem to be doing is shooting themselves in the foot lately. The two penalties at the end of the second certainly hurt as they led to the game-tying goal, but they were mostly better about staying out of the box tonight. A few of the calls seemed weak as well.
PK not showing up: Even worse is that when the team gives up a call the PK has suddenly vanished. Last year it was a staple of the defense that the PK was one of the better units in the league. This year they get caught chasing the puck and just letting the opposition get to places with the puck that they simply shouldn't be getting to so easily. 4 goals on 6 chances? That's just abysmal. Much better, even though they did give up the one PP tally and a bunch of shots.
Defense getting caught: Last year when the defense pinched in to create some play the Coyotes were excellent at rotating out one of the wings to cover for it. This year it seems like the team is getting caught constantly with 4 guys near the goalline. The speed of some of the players covers for it at times but it's become a major issue. This was also better and Pittsburgh did not get many odd man rushes up the ice.
Return of Poor Passing: This used to be a problem under Gretzky, but it seems to have resurfaced. It's like the guys can't make the right pass at the right time or whoever they're passing to can't recieve it correctly. Either the pass is so light that it never even makes it to the target, it's so hard or off target that the guys can't catch up or It's right on target and the intended recipient just coughs it up or tips it away. It's creating odd man rushes and disrupts the offense with a disturbing frequency. This was a huge problem tonight, especially from the defensemen - the Crosby goal was a direct result of a whiffed pass by DMo. But the breakout passes were a bit better and the Wolski to Belanger pass that led to the first goal was a thing of beauty.
Play your position: In addition to being caught on offense the defensemen just seem to be out of position on defense as well. Screening their own goalies, or getting caught on the boards, or as seen last night getting pucks deflected off of them and in against their own team. Get to your spot and play the man. The defense did a good job, particularly playing without Ed Jovanovski - although Crosby found the scoresheet twice and was buzzing around a bit, the D did a good job of minimizing his scoring chances.
COMMENT OF THE NIGHT:
-justin1985 [in reference to the homer Pens announcers]
OFFICIAL GAME HIGHLIGHTS COURTESY OF NHL.com:
Coyotes are back in action Monday when they are back in Detroit to face the Red Wings (3 games against the Wings in the first 14 of the season - bizarre!). Hopefully Jovo is back by then and they can get back in the win column.