Although the third period was the only one that mattered, Saturday's early game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh was anything but uneventful.
Throughout the course of the game, 51 penalty minutes were doled out, three players left at one point or another due to injury and another was ejected. Even one of the referees was forced to leave after taking a stick to the face.
But for all the action in the first two periods, all the offense came in the third period where Sidney Crosby would notch three points for the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to a 3-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. Mike Smith was once again fantastic in the losing effort, but when it's all said and done, eight penalties and a huge shot disparity takes its toll on a hockey club's chance for success.
The first bit of action came early on in the first period with Maxim Lapierre and BJ Crombeen trading roughing penalties and forcing two minutes of 4-on-4 hockey. Both teams saw their fair share of looks, including a Sidney Crosby chance that Michael Stone sent aside. But at the end of the two minutes, the game was still scoreless.
At the 9:30 mark of the first period, Pittsburgh had an 2-on-1 opportunity after Craig Cunningham tried to find the pinching Klas Dahlbeck in the front of the Pittsburgh net, but missed the pass. The puck then trickled onto the stick of Evgeni Malkin who lead the charge the other way. Luckily for the Coyotes, Connor Murphy was able to disrupt the pass to Chris Kunitz and break up the chance.
Continuing the trend of chippiness displayed in the opening minutes, an interesting situation developed after Patric Hornqvist was sent to the box for hooking Martin Erat on the original play. After the whistle blew, Hornqvist gave Erat an additional shove, which Shane Doan took opposition to. That retaliatory shove was deemed a penalty in the ref's eye, cancelling out what would have been a power play for the Coyotes.
With 35 seconds left on the ensuing 4-on-4, Blake Comeau gave Andrew Campbell an aggressive ride into the boards, after which Campbell headed straight to the locker room bleeding from his nose. Comeau was credited with a misconduct penalty and subsequently ejected from the game. Despite five minutes of power play time, the Coyotes were unable to get one past Thomas Greiss.
A minute later, the period would end tied at zero, due in no small part to Mike Smith's 14-save period. Over the course of the first frame, Smith was tested often by the Penguin skaters and emerged victorious from all of them.
Um, safe to say Mike Smith is dialed in right now. #Coyotes— Luke Lapinski (@LukeLapinski) March 28, 2015
Smith's solid play would carry through to the second period. So, too, would the pattern of 4-on-4 play. Thirty seconds after Michael Stone was sent off for throwing the puck over the boards, Tobias Rieder and Joe Vitale led a short-handed 2-on-1 charge and drew a penalty when the trailing Chris Kunitz hooked Vitale. Vitale was unable to slow down and went crashing into the endboards. Noticeably injured, Vitale would leave the game momentarily.
Moments later during the 4-on-4, a rather scary moment came when Shane Doan checked Kris Letang, who would lose his footing and hit his head on the endboards. There was no penalty called, but Letang would stay down for a couple minutes as the training staff tended to him.
Doan would answer for the hit at about the 4:00 mark when Steve Downie dropped the gloves and traded a few licks with Captain Coyote. With a linesman leaving the game moments earlier, it was becoming hard to tell the difference between this hockey game and a literal bloodbath. Nevertheless, the game was still scoreless after two.
It was almost 45 minutes into the game when the first goal was finally scored. With the fourth line doing dirty work down low, the puck slid to the line where Klas Dahlbeck was waiting. He would slap it towards Greiss, and a Tye McGinn redirection gave the Coyotes' first lead of the afternoon.
Unfortunately, the lead would be short-lived. Sidney Crosby beat Mark Arcobello clean off the faceoff and immediately passed it to Paul Martin who loaded up a slapshot at net. Daniel Winnik was waiting for the rebound, and would sneak the shot past Smith's stickside to tie the game. Less than three minutes later, Pittsburgh would take the lead with a power play goal off the stick of Steve Downie.
After that, things fell apart for the Coyotes. After Michael Stone's high stick drew blood, Arizona was put on the four-minute penalty kill. Sidney Crosby would score on the power play from point blank range, stirring up a scrum after the horn blew in the process. The scoring play would be reviewed for a kicking motion, but was ultimately upheld.
Although momentum was distinctly Pittsburgh's from that moment, Arizona would stick around till the end. With 1:51 remaining, Tobias Rieder potted his 13th of the season after receiving the beautiful tic-tac-toe pass from Shane Doan to keep things interesting with less than two minutes left in the game.
From there, the Coyotes did what they could to tie the game, but the Penguins would hold on for the victory.
Our Three Stars of the Game
- Sidney Crosby - Three points on the day, including the game winner.
- Mike Smith - 43 saves on 46 shots for a .935 save percentage.
- Steve Downie - Scored the second goal for Pittsburgh, and deserves some respect for sticking up after the Letang hit.
- For the Pittsburgh perspective, check out Pensburgh.
- Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup for the Penguins after missing six games with a lower body injury. Hornqvist also returned after missing five games.
- Crosby's three points gives him 78 on the season and the lead in the NHL points race over Jakub Voracek and John Tavares.
- Thomas Greiss was in net for Pittsburgh. He spent all of last season with Arizona, compiling a 10-8-5 record with a .920 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in his 25 games.
- Tye McGinn's goal was his second of the season, and his first as a member of the Arizona Coyotes.
- Shout out to Steve Barton, the linesman who left the game with a mouth full of blood. Refs are people too.
- Arizona hasn't won three straight since December 29th.
- Arizona scratches: Brandon Gormley, Lauri Korpikoski
- Shots: 46-24 favoring Pittsburgh
- Special teams: 0-for-2 on the power play, 4-for-6 on the penalty kill.