Mar 25, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) passes the puck from his knees against pressure from Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek (4) during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Phoenix Coyotes won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Penalties Kill Pens in Loss to Coyotes

In their first game without star forward Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t stop the losing streak, as they fell to the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 Tuesday.

In a wacky first period of hockey, the Penguins and the Coyotes headed to the dressing room tied 2-2. Phoenix’s David Moss started the scoring off at the 9:06-mark when a Penguins’ defenseman turned the puck over in their own end. Moss swooped in and barreled to the cage for the first goal.

Shortly after, the Pens went on the power play, thinking they had scored. However, Jussi Jokinen’s shot was waved as no goal by the referee and play continued for almost another three minutes. Then finally, the game got a whistle, and Jokinen’s shot was video reviewed. The video showed Jokinen’s shot hit the camera in the net and bounced out quickly. Calling it a good goal, the clock then sequentially reset back to the time of that goal at 11:51.

That didn’t last long though, as the Coyotes third-ranked power play went to work.

Coyotes’ forward Antoine Vermette, whose been one of Phoenix’s better scorers this season, tipped one past Marc-Andre Fleury at the 14:47-mark. The Pens’ kept battling, and with only five seconds left to play in the period, the Pens tied the game up.

Simon Despres gained control of the puck at the point, making a D-to-D pass to Rob Scuderi, who took a hard slap shot on net, where it was tipped by forward Taylor Pyatt for his third goal of the season. The first period ended at a tie, with shots totaling 11-to-10 in favor of Phoenix.

The second stanza wasn’t any improvement for the Pens.

It was very much a tightly played period – with the body checks now totaling 21-to-17 in favor of the Penguins. However, a retaliatory penalty taken by Jokinen at the 11:18-mark put the ‘Yotes on the power play. At 13:18, just as Jokinen stepped out of the box, forward Michael Stone took a shot from the point, which hit forward Shane Doan and Brooks Orpik. Doan, tying up Orpik’s stick, allowed forward Mikkel Boedker to grab the puck and take a quick snap-shot over the Fleury’s glove hand.

The period ended with the Coyotes leading 3-2, while adding eight more shots (19) and the Pens only adding seven (17) heading into period number three.

In the third frame, the game proved to be much of the same – as we have all been seeing for two games now.

The score didn’t change, and neither did the hitting, where Pittsburgh racked up a total of 29 hits and Phoenix added 19 into the mix. While no goals were scored in the third period, penalties for the Penguins proved to be detrimental, as Sidney Crosby, Robert Bortuzzo, and James Neal all committed infractions.

Neal’s proved to be the most painful though at the 19:14-mark, where he broke a Coyotes’ stick with a slash as the Pens were desperately trying to bank the game-tying goal.

Outshooting Pittsburgh 29-to-25, the Pens now are riding a two-game losing streak, and haven’t played good hockey lately.

Analysis:

Once again, penalties are the downfall of this talented hockey team.

The Penguins’ committed five infractions tonight, forcing the team to spend more in their own zone than needed. The three penalties committed in the third period were all lazy, and in the second, Jokinen’s was selfish. That’s 12-minutes of ice-time that can used more productively rather than penalty killing in their own zone.

Malkin is now out of the lineup (injured foot), and Brandon Sutter is forced to play center on the second-line, while Marcel Goc takes Sutter’s spot on the third with Brian Gibbons and Taylor Pyatt. Sutter is a mainstay on the penalty-killing unit, and is now seeing more ice, while skating on the second-line.

This will prove to be exhausting for the young center. Gibbons had one heck of a game. Using his speed to his advantage and forcing Phoenix to turn the puck over on multiple occasions, the speed of Gibbons seemed to have put a little extra pep in Pyatt’s step.

Pyatt, moving faster than I’ve ever seen him move before – maybe because he has to keep up with Gibbons, I don’t know – but that line sure seemed to click tonight. And I cannot forget the player whose continued to give his team a chance night in a night out – Fleury.

Fleury stood tall on many difficult shots and had a couple key saves that could have made this close game get out of control quickly. If he can keep the consistently going, the potential loss of Tomas Vokoun for the season may be less detrimental in the long run.

Usually the Pens catch fire in March, but this season is turning out to show that the flame is not there. And it’s important they start winning, considering the postseason is getting nearer and nearer.

Next up for Pittsburgh is the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.

The game can be seen on the ROOT Network, and is set to start at 7 p.m.

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