Pittsburgh Penguins vs Phoenix Coyotes recap: redemption

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

The Phoenix Coyotes defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Saturday night.

The Phoenix Coyotes needed some redemption. After Thursday's loss to NHL cellar dweller Buffalo, their captain called them out and their fanbase called them out.

Saturday brought a new day, a new game and a chance to earn that much-needed redemption.

Unlike Thursday, the Coyotes stepped up and took their opportunity in front of a sell-out crowd on a night where the team broke the single game regular season revenue record.

It wasn't easy.

The task of vanquishing the Pittsburgh Penguins, owners of the NHL's best power play, penalty kill and the Eastern Conference's best record, is daunting. But just days after falling to the the worst team in the Eastern Conference and the NHL, Phoenix proved up to the task.

The Coyotes took the early lead and didn't fold up the tent, like they did against Buffalo, even after a late second period goal by Pittsburgh cut their lead in half.

Phoenix came out of the dressing room swinging and got the all-important next goal to push the game along, something they were unable to do Thursday.

Radim Vrbata put the game out of reach with his 13th goal of the season after wristing the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury.

"That's what we missed last game against Buffalo," Vrbata said. "We have a 2-1 lead and we score that third one and suddenly it's a two-goal game. If we keep it 2-1 all the way then we don't know what could have happened at the end."

After lacking a full 60-minute effort against the Sabres, Phoenix controlled the game from start to finish and never trailed.

"(The game) was one of the more complete games we've played this year, that's for sure," coach Dave Tippett said.

Before Vrbata iced the game, a former Penguin scored the eventual game-winning goal.

Zbynek Michalek scored his first goal of the season, and first since March 5, 2012 against the Coyotes as a Penguin, to give his team a lead they would not relinquish.

"It's been almost two years, I think, so it definitely felt good and hopefully I don't have to wait that long for the next goal," Michalek said.

It wasn't fancy but a pair of goals from Mike Ribeiro and Michalek through screens and the put-away goal by Vrbata in the third period was all the offense the Coyotes needed as they shut down the vaunted Penguins offense that included two of the game's best, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who combined for one point.

Coyotes hockey entails strong defense and goaltending and both were on display against the fourth ranked Penguins offense.

A major reason Crosby was held off the scoresheet was the strong play of Phoenix's top defensive pair, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Michalek.

The two combined for five blocks and shadowed the former Hart Memorial Trophy winner throughout the game.

"They were both really good," Tippett said. "Their play was excellent -- Olli was all-world."

Ekman-Larsson shut down and frustrated Crosby all night and was the best all-around player on the ice.

Another Coyote who shined on Saturday was starting goaltender Mike Smith. Smith returned to the lineup after watching the last two games from the bench in favor of Thomas Greiss, to make 23 saves on 24 shots for his 19th win of the season.

"It was a great bounce-back game," Smith said. "I thought right from the drop of the puck we were getting the puck in deep and doing the things that it takes to win."

"It's nice to get back in and play well -- gain some confidence back," Smith added.

His coach was also pleased with Smith's play after riding the pine for a couple games.

"It's the exact response we were hoping for," Tippett said. "He jumped in practice and got some work done with (goaltending coach Sean Burke) and came out and played accordingly."

Phoenix needed strong play from Smith to earn two points as they race against not only the teams around them in the Western Conference, but the countdown clock until the end of the season.

The victory gives Phoenix 62 points, one point behind eighth place Vancouver for the final playoff spot.

Three games remain until the NHL breaks for the Winter Olympics and Vrbata hopes his team can build on Saturday's success.

"We had a really good game against LA, we didn't back it up against Buffalo. We had a really good game tonight, hopefully we can bring our A game again against Dallas (on Tuesday)," Vrbata said.

Paw Prints

  • Pittsburgh's perspective
  • Advanced game stats
  • Antoine Vermette extended his point streak to seven games.
  • Ribeiro's goal was his 11th at home, leading all Coyotes.
  • His goal was also the 200th of his career.
  • The Coyotes are now 20-7-3 when scoring first and 16-2-3 when leading after two periods.
  • Attendance: 17,362

Our Three Stars of the Game

1. Mike Smith - Stopped all but one shot in great bounce-back game.
2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Best skater on the ice. Did a little of everything and picked up an assist too.
3. Mike Ribeiro - Goal and an assist

Looking Ahead

The Coyotes face former Pacific Division rival Dallas on Tuesday night. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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