Entering the game against the Arizona Coyotes on a four game losing streak, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a chance to get back to the good side of things. Despite still not having Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist - and losing defenseman Christian Ehrhoff after warmups, the short-handed Penguins still were ahead of the 21-42-8, last place in the West Coyotes, right?
The first 20 minutes said otherwise. The Pens ceded a short-handed goal to Tobias Rieder just 1:34 into the game, a terrible start that was continued for the rest of the period with Arizona were outshooting the Pens 13-3.
It looked like there was no hope- the Pens had fallen behind 1-0 in all of the previous four games that they lost. Down to 17 skaters without Ehrhoff and without a lot of their scoring muscle in Malkin and Hornqvist how were they going to dig out of even a modest 1-0 hole to a bad team? Was the season slipping away?
Seems dire, but that's what rock bottoms usually are.
Luck would finally change. After all, what else could it be for Mike Smith (one of the best puck-moving goalies in the league) to try and clear a puck straight up the middle of the ice and hit Brandon Sutter on his backside and have the puck trickle right into the empty cage. 1-1 and just like that it seemed like a weight was lifted from the team. A few minutes later Sidney Crosby won an offensive zone faceoff to Kris Letang who shuffled a puck to the net that Daniel Winnik tipped in for a lead.
The Pens would out-shoot the Coyotes 34-18 over the last 40 minutes. Whatever woke them up in the first intermission, worked.
It wasn't pretty, but coming out of rock bottoms seldom are. But at least there's only one way to go now, and that's up.
The schedule looks really good for Pittsburgh now. After playing St. Louis on home on Tuesday for their next game, the Pens play their next 7 games against non-playoff teams. This might be be a bit misleading, however, since 2 of those games are against pretty good teams (San Jose, Ottawa) and 2 games are against Philly, who always give the Pens fits.
The Penguins probably won't be on steady footing until Malkin, Hornqvist and Ehrhoff are 100%, which might not be for a while. But by shaking out of their slump last night, they should at least be on their way to finding the right path again.