Entering their Saturday meeting in Glendale, Ariz., the Pittsburgh Penguins and Phoenix Coyotes were working off drastically different recent results.
The Penguins had just held the well-schooled Kings at arm’s length in a Thursday win at Los Angeles, while the Coyotes were trying to eradicate the stench of a home loss to lowly Buffalo on the same night.
Score one for negative feedback as the Coyotes put their 5-9-1 January behind them with a 3-1 defeat of the Penguins at Jobing.com Arena. Seven Phoenix players recorded at least a point to support the oft-spectacular 23-save effort from goalie Mike Smith, which helped lift the home team within one point of the Western Conference’s top eight.
Evgeni Malkin scored the Penguins’ lone goal late in the second period to cut the Phoenix lead to 2-1, but Pittsburgh (38-15-2, 78 points) suffered through two lengthy stretches of play without a shot on target, limiting the opportunity for a comeback. Radim Vrbata‘s tally four minutes into the third provided the final margin for the Coyotes (26-19-10, 62 points).
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 shots, with only Vrbata’s goal off the rush beating him cleanly. Phoenix’ two earlier strikes from Mike Ribeiro (12:42 of the first) and former Penguin Zbynek Michalek (10:50 of the second) both tipped off Fleury’s teammates en route to the twine.
Pittsburgh’s No. 1 power play got just two chances to affect the outcome, but it couldn’t convert on either. Malkin’s goal, his 16th, was the result of sustained pressure by he and linemates Jussi Jokinen and James Neal, each of whom earned assists. Smith almost stopped that one, too, with the puck glancing between his legs as he slid over to the right post.
The Penguins would get no such bounce in the third, as Canadian Olympian Smith denied Neal, Brandon Sutter and Sidney Crosby on quick plays to the front of the net. Late-game frustration boiled over into penalties for Neal and Malkin, but the Coyotes couldn’t take advantage of any of their four power plays on the night.
Although the Pens are 23-6-1 since the day before Thanksgiving, Saturday night was their third loss in seven games, all to teams battling to get into playoff positions.
Pittsburgh begins its final week before the Olympic break with a home game against Ottawa on Monday night.
Notes: Saturday marked the first trip to Arizona for the Penguins since November 2010. Pittsburgh had won three straight in the all-time series prior to the game…Kris Letang was a scratch due to illness for the second consecutive game. Chuck Kobasew (lower body) and Deryk Engelland (healthy) also sat out…While Pittsburgh’s top two forward lines had their moments, the bottom six continued to disappoint with just four combined shots in the game.