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Penguins vs. Coyotes Preview: Can Pittsburgh break out against struggling foe?

A look at tonight’s matchup between the Penguins and the Arizona Coyotes. Are the stars finally aligning for a big Pittsburgh win?

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports


Who: Arizona Coyotes (2-12-2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (8-6-2)

Start time: 7:08 PM Eastern

TV/Radio: AT&T Sportsnet, WXDX 105.9 FM

Opponent Outlook: Five For Howling


For once, the Pens are on the good side of the schedule, as Arizona played (and lost in OT) last night to the Capitals. Pittsburgh is rested.

The Coyotes are the worst team in the league so far with the fewest wins (2) and points (6) of anyone in the NHL. This is a bit misleading to their actual performance due to starting goalie Antti Raanta missing time with injury and the team getting atrocious goaltending from two different backups who both had .880%ish save percentages. This forced them to make a trade and add decent backup Scott Wedgewood who has steadied the tide a little bit.

Wedgewood played last night in DC, so probably expect Raanta (1-2-1, 3.11 GAA, .911 save%) to get the nod in goal tonight.


The good news here is that 4th pair, with Justin Schultz and Matt Hunwick both making progress and looking almost ready to return from both of their respective concussions. Schultz has been out since Oct 24th, Hunwick Oct 14th.

"They were full contact [Monday]. They both had good days," coach Mike Sullivan said after practice yesterday. "We'll see how they react and then obviously we'll have to make decisions [Tuesday] morning. It's really positive the signs that they showed today."

Being as both were on a pair with each other, doesn’t seem like they will be playing tonight but we’re one day closer and after tonight the Pens don’t play again until Friday night in Washington and perhaps one or both can rejoin the lineup for that game.

Finally some changes and more conventional lines for the Pens at practice yesterday. They haven’t used Jake Guentzel all that much recently for extended games of playing along side Evgeni Malkin, so that combination certainly will be an interesting one to watch. Malkin hasn’t had a lot of traditional skill on his left side this year (Carl Hagelin, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, among others) so the addition of Guentzel who actually is a top-6 skilled left winger looks heaven sent (if not sort of obvious, but we digress).

All in all, these lines are probably pretty popular among Pens fans as being the best balance and skill combinations and a pretty ideal lineup that doesn’t include the “Sid and the Kids” line, so obviously it will be very interesting to see what and if they can get going at 5 on 5. Speaking of..

Time to break through?

Tonight seems like a perfect chance to get things going in the right direction.

Inferior opponent? Check

Tired opponent? Check

Back on home ice? Check

These are all the elements that a team like the Penguins has just feasted on over the last decade. It’s no guarantee that if they simply take the ice they’re entitled to a victory (and such an attitude would of course probably disqualify them from a win), however with the talent and experience discrepancy this one ought to be as great an opportunity as you’ll ever see in the modern day NHL for Pittsburgh to put on a great show and get out with 2 points in the standings.

Opponent lines

(from last night’s game)

Tobias Rieder - Derek Stepan - Clayton Keller

Max Domi - Christian Dvorak - Christian Fischer

Jordan Martinook - Brad Richardson - Nick Cousins

Brendan Perlini - Mario Kempe - Zac Rinaldo

Oliver Ekman-Larsson / Jason Demers

Alex Goligoski / Luke Schenn

Kevin Connauton / Dakota Mermis


If you don’t recognize too many names, don’t feel bad, this is a team undergoing a major youth movement. 9 players above are 25 or younger, and that doesn’t include several other important players like Anthony Duclair, Lawson Cruise and Dylan Strome who have played NHL games this year as well.

Keller has emerged as a terrific young player and rookie of the year candidate with 11 goals, including one in the first minute of last night’s game.

Defensively they lean heavily on their top 3 guys. It was an OT game, but the stellar and vastly under-talked about Ekman-Larson played 31:13 last night, followed closely by Demers at 28:58. Former Penguin (and at 32 the oldest player on the team along with Richardson) Alex Gologoski played 24:07. Schenn played 17:49 then the other two (who often pair with Goligoski or Schenn) were sprinkled in to play 13:04 for Connauton and just 7:07 for Mermis.

If that continues tonight, maybe they will run out of gas or make a mistake playing the top players so much. Ekman-Larsson is as solid as they come, but the rest of the team aren’t exactly button down defensemen in their own end.


Final Thought

All signs really should be pointing to a Pittsburgh win in this game. But the NHL is a parity-based league and no one result would be too surprising on any given night. Still, with conditions, rest, being at home, being better on paper, having a lot more experience...This is one where the Pens should carry the day and boost their low shooting percentages with an offensive breakthrough and we all are happy and have a fun night. That easy, huh?