Penguins beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-2
What a strange game. A ton of penalties, some strange goal scorers, and special teams play that seems to have flipped.
Overall, a win the Pittsburgh Penguins desperately needed to keep pace in the Eastern Conference against a team that has surprised a lot of people.
In case you haven’t paid too much attention to the Coyotes (understandable), they are right in the mix of things for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Specifically, the Yotes have been getting terrific goaltending from the emergent Connor Ingram (.920 Save Percentage coming into tonight) and a lot of finishing luck from guys like Michael Carcone (league-high 35.9 shooting percentage coming into tonight. On paper, it looked like it could be a recipe for disaster for a Penguins team that has had nightmarish finishing luck despite often controlling the majority of their games’ chances.
Yet despite dropping 4 straight, the Penguins finally showed some life in some aspects of their game that had all but disappeared during the losing streak.
Winner: The Powerplay
I’m not about to declare the powerplay fixed by any means. I think a lot of the issues that have plagued the unit are still very much present as the Pens only mustered 6 shots on their 5 powerplay attempts, still struggled with zone entries and didn’t have much sustained pressure.
They scored twice, in fact. So, at least for tonight, I will be plugging my ears and singing loudly, claiming I can’t hear people pointing out the issues.
Genuinely, though, the dam-busting goal from Guentzel early in the first showed that this unit hasn’t completely atrophied. The puck movement was great; what you also may have noticed is a switch in the powerplay’s formation, going from the much-maligned umbrella to a classic overload.
With the talent the Penguins have on the ice during any given powerplay, the ability of an overload powerplay to create lapses in opposing defenses is unmatched. Puustinen, Guentzel, and Crosby just bullied Troy Stetcher on the first goal, putting the defenseman in a position where he needed to cover three people and couldn’t physically do so.
Something important about the overload powerplay: it doesn’t necessarily require a net-front presence as much as the umbrella. The Pens don’t currently have a guy built to be a Hornqvist-style mucker in front of the net, so a switch makes a lot of sense.
The 2nd unit also scored; they seem to still be running an umbrella, partly because they have a big guy they can park right in front of the goalie (we will be talking about him shortly).
Loser: Connor Ingram
Let me say this: being a loser doesn’t mean you had a bad game.
Connor Ingram was mostly excellent in net for the Coyotes tonight, with a GSAx (goals saved above expected) of 1.17, according to Money Puck. What he was not able to do is steal this game for the Coyotes, which he had done for most of their champion-beating win streak last week.
This was the 3rd loss in a row for Ingram, who seems to be faltering here down the stretch, though he looked extremely solid tonight. None of the Penguins’ 3 goals with Ingram in the net could really be attributed to bad goaltending, more to shoddy play around him.
This game would have been a great opportunity for the goalie to get right back in the win column against a Penguins team that had scored only 3 goals in their last 3 contests, but that was not to be.
Winner: PO Joseph
Welcome back, PO; we didn’t even know you were hurt for a little while.
Returning from a two-game conditioning stint, the 24-year-old defenseman was paired with John Ludvig, and the two really seemed to mesh together. Joseph has always had a good range to his game and skates well with the puck; he plays a generally more exciting game than Ryan Shea, the man he replaced in the lineup.
I like the Joseph-Ludvig connection a lot going forward; they played exactly how you would want a 3rd pairing to play tonight. Sharing the ice mostly with the Eller-Zohorna-Hinostroza line, the pair put up 0.534 expected goals at 5 on 5 versus only 0.075 against, according to MoneyPuck.
If Joseph can reclaim his form from last year, which it looked like he was in tonight, the Penguins will be in great shape on the back end.
Mike Sullivan has always loved pairing his high-flying defensemen with a heavy, shutdown guy. While this pairing isn’t going to be Letang-Dumolin, if they can be Maatta-Daley, I’d be over the moon.
Loser: People who really like 5 on 5 hockey
Like I said in the intro, a lot of penalties tonight, 11 to be exact. It felt like, at times, the game had no flow; the entire first period felt like parts of other games that were stitched together.
The Penguins getting a powerplay and having Crosby immediately slash former Penguin Nick Bjugstad was strange. Still, Bjugstad then giving the Penguins the powerplay back only 20 seconds later was even weirder. I was worried about getting the bends.
Not a single goal came at even strength.
The Coyotes notched both of theirs on the powerplay, while the Penguins scored twice on the powerplay, once shorthanded (it was the big guy again) and once into the empty net.
Winner: Jeff Carter
I’ve never personally been big on the Carter hate train. Carter seems like a very genuine, likable guy and is beloved by his teammates. He got old; it happens.
I also don’t think he’s entirely useless, even at this point in his career.
As we’ve seen a revolving door of AHL talent roll through the Penguins roster over the past few weeks, you’ve started to get a feel for what actual NHL talent looks like. Does Carter look like he did even just two years ago? Not even remotely, but if he can be your 13th forward, a guy that plugs in when you have an injury, you’re in decent shape. He is still an NHL talent, even if not an everyday one.
He really looked great tonight.
Carter scored twice, once shorthanded to tie the game and once on the powerplay to take the lead. His first goal showed a flash of vintage Carter as he roofed a backhand over the sprawling Ingram. Carter stepped into the Noel Acciari role, centering the 4th line and playing a lot on the PK. The 4th line was outshot at 5 on 5 but had more quality chances than the opposition (51.4% xG share per MoneyPuck).
Carter has done a decent job this season of not letting anything happen, good or bad, while he’s on the ice. Some of this can be attributed to his faceoff prowess (he won 7 of 8 tonight), which, though sometimes over-emphasized, does prevent his line from getting hemmed in on defensive-zone draws.
Listen, I’m not saying Jeff is back or even that he should play every night, but every now and then, he gives you a game like this, and hey, I’ll take it.
Loser: Penguins Penalty Kill
After a tremendous start to the season, the Pens’ PK has stumbled a bit of late. It was the unit of Eller, O’Connor, Ludvig, and Graves that took the brunt of the damage tonight as they were out for both of Arizona’s goals.
There is a direct line that can be drawn here to the absence of Matt Nieto and Noel Acciari. While unremarkable at even strength, the pair had been spectacular while a man down. Another key missing piece is Chad Ruhwedel; though Ludvig has the upside, he specifically looked lost on the Coyotes’ goals. Inversely, you always know what to expect with Chad.