The Penguins lost their third game in regulation in 2014 with a 3-1 decision to the Phoenix Coyotes. It was a game where the Pens had some chances, but goalie Mike Smith was up to make some stops, and on the other end, the Phoenix shooters did better to convert on Marc-Andre Fleury.
It was a surprisingly frustrating game for the Pens, with Evgeni Malkin boiling over towards the end of the game to get a bench minor for shouting at the refs. The Pens got in a hole early and could never dig out of it. Mike Riberio scored seconds after a power play for Phoenix expired in the first period. Then ex-Penguin Zbynek Michalek scored his first goal in 83 games to make it 2-0. Ironically, the last goal Michalek scored was as a Penguin, and it came against the Coyotes. A strange and fitting bit of duality there.
Malkin would make it 2-1 when James Neal made a nice cross-ice pass to him, but then early in the third an ill-advised Brian Gibbons turnover during a line change gave Phoenix a 2-on-1 that Radim Vrbata buried. That'd be more than enough offense for Smith and the stingy Coyotes D to hold up and skate away with the win.
A few more thoughts on the game:
- A quiet game for Sidney Crosby, who played 21:30, had two shots on goal, did well in the faceoff circle (won 55% of 22) but wasn't very dangerous or a big factor. It's bound to happen over the course of a long year, but definitely is unusual to not have #87 be a difference maker with the puck in any given game.
- Conversely, another big-time game for the "second" line of Neal, Malkin and Jussi Jokinen. They totaled for 20 attempted shots on net and not surprisingly were three of the four best players on the team in Corsi For on the night.
- Tough night for Paul Martin, got crushed on Corsi, was on ice for all three goals against.
- The Pens recorded 24 shots on goal, with another 20 shots blocked down by the Phoenix defense. Not a good percentage for the Pittsburgh shooters on actually getting their shot attempts to the goalie. Definitely credit the "pack it in" defensive mindset of a good defensive team sitting on a lead just about all game, but it showed how frustrating it can be for this team to overcome a focused and solid defensive effort.
- One such way to overcome is scoring a power play goal. Didn't happen tonight and only got two chances. Could have been a third when Antoine Vermette drove Neal from behind into the boards. The refs called that penalty, but they also rang Neal up for a dive, somehow. So instead of a power play for the Pens to get back in the game, it'd be a 4-on-4 situation...With Malkin still upset and melting down on the bench to really spiral the game out of control.
- That said, the Pens can't blame the refs. They didn't execute and didn't get enough quality shots on Smith. The few they did were all stopped by the Phoenix netminder (save one) who had a very excellent game.
If nothing else, at least that road trip is over. The Pens won't have much time to rest, as they'll see the Ottawa Senators at home on Monday as the league tries to crunch in as many games as possible before the Olympic break.