Keeping consistent with the recent M.O., the Arizona Coyotes played some good defense, got some good goaltending, but could not light the lamp enough as the Pittsburgh Penguins skated by with the 3-1 victory Saturday night at Gila River Arena. Tobias Rieder scored for the Coyotes, and Brandon Sutter, Daniel Winnik and Sidney Crosby scored for the Penguins, who snapped their four game losing streak.
The Penguins would not register a shot on goal until about the 14 minute mark of the first period. Part of the problem for Pittsburgh was their inability to generate consistent pressure, but the Arizona defensive corps was equally responsible, especially on the penalty kill.
That same kill unit would cash in first for the Coyotes. A minute and a half into the game, Dave Moss stole the puck after Sidney Crosby mishandled it at center ice, forcing a short-handed two-on-one for the Coyotes. He would find Tobias Rieder charging down the slot, and Tobi would do the rest with a top-corner snipe for his twelfth goal of the season.
The second period saw a little more pushback from the Penguins, but it also saw Mike Smith establish a groove. 20 of his 36 saves on the night came in the second period - several of them exclamation point stops. One of those stops came from the stick of David Perron, who was all alone in the high slot, but could not beat Smith's outstretched blocker.
Smith's good goaltending was tainted by a bizarre play on his part. After a Pittsburgh dump, Smith ventured into the trapezoid and attempted to clear the puck. Smith's clearing attempt bounced off of Brandon Sutter and into the Coyote net for the Pittsburgh equalizer. He may not have carried the puck into the net by the seat of his pants, but the clearing attempt will not be his finest hour:
Moments later, Pittsburgh would take the lead off the faceoff with Sidney Crosby beating Justin Hodgman straight into a Kris Letang slap shot from the point. Daniel Winnik tipped the puck in to make the score 2-1.
Although the two tallies would put momentum in Pittsburgh's corner for the moment, Arizona would fight back with some chances of their own, including a couple quality looks on the power play in the waning moments of the period.
As the third period started, the Coyotes found themselves on yet another penalty kill. Once again, Tobias Rieder was given a golden chance off the forecheck. Moss threw it to the front of the net with Rieder all alone, but Fleury would sniff it the whole way, prompting Rieder to slam his stick in frustration. The penalty kill had another exciting Coyote moment, as only Oliver Ekman-Larsson stood between Sidney Crosby and Mike Smith. OEL, cool as ever, poked it away from the stick of number 87 and diffused what could have been a dangerous situation for the Coyotes.
At about the 11:09 mark of the third, it was Mike Smith again making some key saves. He flashed some good leather to rob Pittburgh's Steve Downie, who was all alone in Smith's crease, but the shot flew right into the goaltender's glove.
All the Coyotes' hard work throughout the game paid off, as with 5:41 left in the third, Kris Letang was called for hooking, giving Arizona a pivotal power play. But alas, the Penguins' fourth-best-in-the-NHL penalty killing unit came through with the outcome on the line.
Arizona would pull Mike Smith for one last shot at the tying score. Michael Stone had a slapshot on net that had a chance, but Fleury's glove hand was too quick. Moments later, Sidney Crosby would ice the game with an empty netter, ending the game in a 3-1 Pittsburgh victory.
Our Three Stars of the Game
- Sidney Crosby - Empty netter and an assist on the GWG. A routine performance for the league's best player.
- Marc-Andre Fleury - 30 saves on 31 shots for a .968 save percentage. Kept them in the game for several uninspired Penguin stretches.
- Tobias Rieder - Third shorty of the season, and led Coyote skaters with six shots on goal.
- For the Pittsburgh perspective, check out Pensburgh.
- Tobias Rieder's goal is his third short-handed goal of the season. That is tied for second most in the league, behind Tyler Toffoli, Rick Nash and Brandon Sutter, who each have four.
- Hodgman received the call up on an emergency basis to replace the injured Martin Erat. It is his first game since November 2nd, when he was sent down after breaking camp with the team.
- Shots on goal: 37-31 Pittsburgh, with 22 of those Pittsburgh shots came in the second period.
- Special teams: 0-for-3 on the PP, 3-for-4 on the penalty kill (plus a SHG).
- Attendance: 15,581.