For the second time in as many Saturdays, the Pittsburgh Penguins faced the 29th place Arizona Coyotes, but still managed to fall behind 1-0. Luckily, for the second time, the Pens were able to claw out of their hole and pull out a win.
All of that was overshadowed though by an apparent head injury to Kris Letang. Letang was bumped/pushed by Arizona captain Shane Doan after playing the puck. It wasn't the most violent of hits, but it sent Letang back and into the end-wall basically falling in head-first. Letang would stay down for almost 5 minutes while the team doctor and trainer attended to him. Finally, with some teammate help he skated off slowly.
The Pens lost another player too earlier in the game, for a different reason. Blake Comeau got the gate with a major boarding penalty and game misconduct for hitting defenseman Andrew Campbell into the boards. Campbell was bloodied, but would return to the game. Pittsburgh were able to kill the penalty and move on as well.
Scoring in this game wasn't opened until early in the 3rd period, courtesy mainly of Mr. Mike Smith. The Pens put 27 shots on Smith in the first two periods but could not break-through. The Coyotes finally did on a play that started when Derrick Pouliot was dis-possessed from the puck by Joe Vitale of all people. Eventually the puck made it's way back to someone named Klas Dahlback who took a point shot that Tye McGinn tipped in past Thomas Greiss for his second goal of the season.
Down to 11 forwards and 5 defensemen, and facing a good goalie in a great zone, the Pens dug deep to find a way to score. Daniel Winnik found a rebound from a Paul Martin point-shot after a clean faceoff win by Sidney Crosby to make it a 1-1 game. Soon thereafter, Brandon Sutter got high-sticked and Steve Downie made the Coyotes play, blasting a slappper off a Crosby pass by Smith to give the Pens a lead they would never relinquish. Then, history would repeat: Sutter got high-sticked again and Crosby scored a goal from the crease off a nice pass from Pouliot to make it 3-1.
The Pens can never do anything easily, it seems, so of course Arizona would score. Tobias Rieder scored his second goal against the Pens in a week when Smith was pulled with 1:51 left to make the score 3-2. That would be as close as they got.
A few more thoughts on the game:
- The Pens still haven't won a game when trailing after 2 periods, and this 3rd period comeback won't change that, but it still is a good sign. Even with the blow of Letang leaving the game and Smith playing very well, Pittsburgh soldiered on and found a way to get the win. On an afternoon where the Islanders and Capitals both lost in regulation, that's a very good result for the Pens playoff positioning.
- To the Coyotes credit, they're a lot scrappier than their place in the standings might indicate. From these past 2 games alone, if you didn't know where they were in the standings, you probably wouldn't guess they were much closer to the #1 pick than to the playoff picture.
- The good and the bad with a young defenseman: Pouliot played awful on the 1st goal against, but his setup on the power play got the goal back. He got another lesson to move the puck, even if chipping it up and out a little quicker, no matter what line the other team has on the ice. With just a handful of regular season games left, hopefully all these lessons will pay off when the important games come.
- Downie challenged Shane Doan to a fight for the Letang hit and seemed fired up for the rest of the game. Now the fight didn't change the game- the Pens would give up the 1-0 goal after that, but just on a human element it seemed to at least energize Downie.
- Both Pouliot and Downie got chances for more ice-time and bigger roles with Letang and Comeau out, respectively. And they made the most of it. A positive sign.
- Evgeni Malkin, in his first game back from injury, looked great wheeling around the ice in 21:15 played with 5 shots on goal (and 7 total attempts), 2 assists. The team needs that out of him.
- Patric Hornqvist also returned and it wasn't a moment too soon either. He was great in front of the net, got a few scoring chances and had 5 shot attempts and 3 hits. It was a good thing Hornqvist could play too, since David Perron (reportedly struck with step throat) could not play.
- Crosby was a force too, 1 goal and 2 assists and had some great passes going all night long. 6 shots on goal too. His goal came from right in the crease, a place he hasn't ventured much but hopefully getting rewarded will encourage him to play that way more in the future.
- Greiss stopped 22 of 24 and played well, despite not getting half the work that Smith did. He had that little hiccup late, as seems to be customary, but held on to get the win.
- As mentioned above, tough night for Sutter with 2 high-sticks finding his face in the 3rd period. If it was any consolation, it parlayed into 2 PP goals that pushed the team to a win.
- The Letang injury looms large though. He was down for a long time and was very uneasy as he slowly, finally, was able to get off the ice. Hopefully he'll be feeling 100% too, the team needs him as badly as they need any player out there.
Letang's status aside, the Pens found a way to take care of business at home against a non-playoff team and their big guys (Crosby, Malkin) played well in doing so. They'll look to take the momentum of this win tomorrow night to play San Jose in a rare Sunday night home game.