The Pittsburgh Penguins saw their two-game winning-streak come to a close Saturday night, as the Phoenix Coyotes defeated them 3-1 in the desert.
While it wasn’t for a lack of effort, because Pittsburgh fought hard right from the puck drop, they just didn’t generate enough quality scoring chances, and on top of that, were diminished by Yotes’ goalie Mike Smith, who seemingly made every big save he had to make for his team to secure victory.
Penalties also hindered Pittsburgh. Despite not allowing a goal on the penalty kill, the amount of sin-bins (6) certainly looked to have tired out some of the players. And although the Pens’ had their opportunities to capitalize on scoring chances, Phoenix really did a fine job of playing tight defense, essentially giving little-to-no looks in burying the biscuit.
Opening the scoring was Yotes’ forward Mike Ribeiro, who wristed a rising shot past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury – who was screened heavily on the play – to give Phoenix the 1-0 lead with 7:18 left in the first period.
Heading into the second period, Pittsburgh would feel the wrath of an ex-teammate, defenseman Zbynek Michalek.
Michalek, who was rostered on the squad between 2010-12, registered his first goal in 83 games with 9:10 left in the second period. The last time Michalek tallied a goal dates back to his final season with Pittsburgh, so it’s only fitting that his blistering slapshot would get through Fleury and into the back of the net against his former team.
Pens’ forward Evgeni Malkin would cut the lead in half 5:01 minutes later, after linemate James Neal found him wide-open for a wrist shot. Forward Jussi Jokinen was the catalyst for the tally, battling hard and getting the puck to Neal, who in turn found Malkin.
However, that’s all the Pens’ could muster.
Failing to sniff twine the rest of the game, Phoenix would tack on another goal courtesy of forward Radim Vrbata off a sloppy line-change by Pittsburgh, and all but ended what was a heated tilt between the two clubs.
Sporadic scuffles ensued, mainly by Malkin, who received a rare unsportsmanlike penalty while on the bench, after he was furious that buddy Neal got charged for embellishing an interference call on Yotes’ forward Antoine Vermette.
It was obvious that frustration began to play a factor into Pittsburgh’s heads, considering tempers flared, and Phoenix’ stifling defense became flustering. You like seeing the fact Malkin stuck up for his teammate, but knowing he’s had high emotional problems in the past, you hope there’s no continuing patterns of uncontrolled rage past this game.
Yes, Pittsburgh has in all likelihood secured a slot for the postseason, however, learning to harness those hot-headed feelings prior to the playoffs can’t be more vital – given the fact the Pens’ have had issues with this in recent attempts.
As I mentioned before, it’s not like Pittsburgh laid an egg this game, they just didn’t do enough to win. Of course they can always improve, but they ran into a desperate hockey club. Specifically, a desperate goaltender.
In terms of Fleury’s performance, he didn’t play bad. On each of the first two goals he was screened pretty good, and the final tally was the product of a two-on-one rush, with one Pens’ defensemen in the vicinity.
Fleury saved 27-of-30 shots, and dropped his record to 29-13-1 on the season. His 29 victories still ranks first for goalie-wins in the NHL.
Pittsburgh will return home to face the Ottawa Senators, Monday, and have two more games this week till the Olympic break.
The tilt on Monday can be seen on the ROOT Network, and is set to commence at 7 p.m.