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Pittsburgh Penguins @ Phoenix Coyotes Preview: Operation Yandle

Tonight, the Phoenix Coyotes welcome the best team in the Eastern Conference, and third best team overall in the NHL this season to Arena. The Pittsburgh Penguins have never been an easy opponent for the Desert Dogs, but perhaps some extra motivation for one of their key players will provide the boost they need.

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

It's been exactly one month since Keith Yandle was (in some people's opinion) shockingly left off of the U.S. Olympics team. And as we learned from Scott Burnside's incredible piece, it wasn't just Brian Burke that didn't want Yandle in Sochi. Penguins (and U.S.) head coach Dan Bylsma and his staff (including Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato) didn't want Yandle, instead favoring to bring their own guys Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, despite both players being injured at that time.

Matchup at a Glance

Pittsburgh Penguins

Phoenix Coyotes


78 (1st in the Eastern Conference)

60 (9th in the Western Conference)

Goals Per Game

4th (3.17)

12th (2.82)

Goals Against Per Game

7th (2.39)

24th (2.94)

Power Play Percentage

1st (25.0%)

7th (20.4%)

Penalty Kill Percentage

1st (87.3%)

26th (79.5%)

Pittsburgh Penguins

Let's be perfectly honest for a second. The Penguins are a very good team, best in the East, and are led by arguably the best player in the NHL, Sidney Crosby, who is currently leading the league in points with 75 and assists with 48. Marc-Andre Fleury has had a decent season, leading the league with 29 wins, and his periphery numbers are better than average (.917, 2.26, 4 SO). They still have Evgeni Malkin and a host of supporting players that make them very dangerous. The only comparable team the 'Yotes have played this year is Anaheim, and we all know how that series went.

But this is Pittsburgh, and let's not forget how much they suck. From the bandwagon fans that almost forced the team to relocate to Kansas City before four straight top-2 picks (Fleury, Malkin, Crosby, Staal) got them a Stanley Cup winning roster and allowed their savior owner to coerce the state to build them a new arena. These so-called "best fans in hockey" will all be sporting one of the several Winter Classic jersey retreads they've been able to design, no doubt with 87 or 71 emblazoned on the back.

To the lovable cheap shot artists that the team employs/employed. Like James Neal. You may remember him from such fine plays as this. Or this. Or this. That last one is a double whammy, made all the better by Neal refusing to answer the bell for either of the hits. And while Crosby may have improved from his younger diving, whining, general cry-baby self, he's still prone to do something like this. Or this. And let's not forget that Bylsma regularly defended (now reformed) winger Matt Cooke when he was throwing flying elbows all around the ice. For all of their skill, Pittsburgh is nothing if not one of the sneakiest dirty teams in the league.

But the Coyotes should take heart in the fact that although Fleury has been much better this year, he's still prone to allowing goals in bunches. So, let's just keep all that in mind, shall we.

Phoenix Coyotes

The Desert Dogs, meanwhile, are a bit of a mess. They continue to be maddeningly inconsistent, looking like world beaters on Tuesday night against LA, and looking like cellar dwellers on Thursday against Buffalo. Which Coyotes team shows up tonight--anybody's guess, but they've generally played better coming off of a bad game than continuing to stink up the joint.

Coach Tippett didn't run the guys through a bag skate yesterday because he wanted to address the problems and improve the game to give the team a better chance to win. Personally, I think it's the right call although I can understand why it may have been good to remind the team that they need to bring a full sixty every game regardless of the opponent. Well, there's no chance that they're looking past Pittsburgh and anything less than an A+ effort is going to result in a defeat. Passes need to get crisper, the defense needs to make the simple plays to clear pucks from danger areas and they need to crash the net more consistently.

Keys to the Game

Net front presence. The Coyotes got a ton of shots on goal in their last game, but most came from the outside and allowed Ryan Miller to make easy saves. They scored their goals by getting the puck down low and banging home rebounds - they will need to be willing to do that again tonight.

Keep it simple. When playing guys like Crosby and Malkin, it's easy to worry about making perfect plays, but the Coyotes just need to clear the front of the net, get sticks in the passing lanes, and get the puck out of the zone. Plays that are too cute are going to end up in the back of the net.

Survive special teams play. The Penguins have finally figured out the power play which has been a struggle in the past few seasons. They top the league in both power play and penalty kill. If the Coyotes want to win, they need to avoid taking too many penalties and play as much 5-on-5 hockey as possible.

Players to Watch

Sidney Crosby

#87 / Center / Pittsburgh Penguins



Aug 07, 1987

2013 - Sidney Crosby 54 27 48 75 13 34 7 0 4 174

He's the best player in the league and as much as I don't like him, he's worth watching on the ice because it really doesn't get much better.

Keith Yandle

#3 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes



Sep 09, 1986

2013 - Keith Yandle 54 6 29 35 -14 39 2 0 1 151

Antoine Vermette is playing out of his mind right now, but Yandle has something to prove tonight and I wouldn't be surprised if he is all over the scoresheet when the game ends.

Likely Starting Goalies

Marc-Andre Fleury

#29 / Goalie / Pittsburgh Penguins



Nov 28, 1984

2013 - Marc-Andre Fleury 43 2550 29 12 96 2.26 1157 1061 .917 4

Mike Smith

#41 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes



Mar 22, 1982

2013 - Mike Smith 45 2596 18 15 126 2.91 1374 1248 .908 1

Injury Report

Pittsburgh will be without Kris Letang (illness), Chris conner (hand), Pascal Dupuis (ACL), Joe Vitale (upper body), Beau Bennett (wrist), and Tomas Vokoun (pelvis).

As of right now , the Coyotes players are healthy and ready to play.

Puck Drop

The game starts at 6 p.m. at Arena with tailgating beginning at the arena at 2. Don't forget, before the game, co-owners George Gosbee and Anthony Leblanc, and GM Don Maloney are hosting an open town hall meeting with Todd Walsh moderating.

The game will be shown on Fox Sports Arizona Plus and can be heard on KTAR 92.3 FM.