The Penguins were back in action on Tuesday against the visiting Arizona Coyotes, but based on the pace of play using the word “action” might be too flashy a term for the early going of this game.
Pittsburgh welcomed back Zach Aston-Reese from injury to replace his usual linemate Teddy Blueger, who will be out a period of 6-8 weeks with a broken jaw. Otherwise, same personnel for the Pens, though both lower forward lines were shaken up in the after-effects of losing Blueger.
Almost time for hockey. pic.twitter.com/RxQfEIaqis— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 25, 2022
The first period was very dull, shots were 10-4 in favor of Pittsburgh but there wasn’t many chances or exciting moments to speak of, including no penalties by either team.
In the second period, the Pens got the game’s first power play but could not convert. Immediately after, the Coyotes struck for the first goal with a slick passing play that culminated in Clayton Keller finding Nick Schmaltz, whose quick shot beat the sliding Tristan Jarry to give the visitors a surprising lead.
Schmaltz gives the #Yotes the lead! pic.twitter.com/jAmSJHPqXW— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) January 26, 2022
Soon after, the Pens got a second crack at a power play when Arizona accidentally cleared the puck over the glass. The top power play made it count with snappy puck movement. Sidney Crosby did Sidney Crosby things making a between the legs backward pass to Bryan Rust, all alone in a dangerous spot. Rust wired a shot past Arizona rookie goalie Karel Vejmalka to tie the game at 1.
Fun fact: Bryan Rust now has 16 points (7G-9A) in nine games home games this season. pic.twitter.com/VfRr2BdI0G— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 26, 2022
The Pens would inflict a wound on themselves when Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel both took penalties in the defense zone on the same sequence, allowing Arizona a full two minutes of a 5v3 power play. The PK did alright for almost a minute, but eventually the Coyotes isolated down to Keller alone who had plenty of time to pick a spot on Jarry to re-establish a 2-1 lead for AZ.
Keller goes top shelf pic.twitter.com/Qvg16xsaLW— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) January 26, 2022
Then it was Pittsburgh’s turn to exploit a power play, with Kris Letang being fed by Crosby and firing a shot over the glove of the right-handed catching Vejmalka and make the game 2-2 late in the second.
That's two power-play goals in the 2nd period pic.twitter.com/lcTi8OuuhJ— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 26, 2022
The Coyotes had one last gasp to take their third and final lead of the game when Schmaltz gave Mike Matheson the ol’ ‘how’s your father’ routine and scored his second goal of the game to make it 3-2 AZ.
That's ✌️ goals for Schmaltz on the night #Yotes pic.twitter.com/eEPcCULcJp— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) January 26, 2022
It would be short-lived, 1:59 later Brock McGinn got on the board with an innocent enough looking backhander that...Goes in. It’s tie the game again for the Pens, this time at 3-3.
Malkin ➡️ Rodrigues ➡️ McGinn ➡️ IN THE NET! pic.twitter.com/5ewXD9vhXQ— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 26, 2022
Then 2:17 after McGinn’s goal, Crosby and Rust worked their magic on a give-and-go on the rush that ended up on Crosby’s stick and then the back of the net for the Pens’ first lead of the night at 4-3 with 12:50 remaining in the game.
We're having a grand ol' time here at PPG Paints Arena!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 26, 2022
Sidney Crosby now has 27 points (9G-18A) in 19 career games played against the Coyotes, including an active four-game point streak (3G-4A) vs. them. pic.twitter.com/NWIoRFAQrj
The Pens begin to pull away after McGinn and Jeff Carter work to get the puck off the boards, and Evan Rodrigues passes across the ice to Letang who is up in the play. Letang fires from one leg to get a little extra on the wrister that the rookie goalie can’t catch up with. 5-3 Pens.
NHL Video Highlight - Kris Letang scores against the Arizona Coyotes to make it 5-3. pic.twitter.com/PBhBwa8SaT— Coyotes Game Bot (@CoyotesGameBot) January 26, 2022
The party on 5th Ave is in full effect with no less than Brian Boyle going between his legs to snap a shot in. Wooo, buckle up baby! 6-3 Pens in what suddenly has become a rout.
if you’re a goalie in 2022 and brian boyle scores on you like this you have to retire on the spot right there i don’t make the rules pic.twitter.com/AWOaqv68NB— babs (@kaitdivi) January 26, 2022
And that will do it for this one.
- In the fourth game of an eight game stretch in 13 days, early on the Penguins didn’t look sharp or like they were going to exert a ton of energy against a last place foe. This was not a pretty game early, and Pittsburgh weren’t totally unmotivated (they kept shots and opportunities against down)...But this wasn’t and didn’t have a playoff-type feel, nor was it nearly as entertaining as Sunday’s similarly low-scoring but really fun exhibition of hockey against Winnipeg. Though I guess that 10 minute stretch in the third period when the Pens scored four goals and pulled away was pretty fun.
- And, after that slow start, the Pens get their power play going, then you look up at the end of the game and it’s 36 shots and six goals on the board.
- Pens goals by period: 0, 2, 4....Arizona is lucky there is no such thing as a fourth period or else they may have been sent straight to orbit with the way the Pittsburgh offense was throttling up.
- A key moment could have been the 3v5 when Crosby and Guentzel both took penalties, giving the Coyotes a full 2:00 to work with two players. That’s just a bad recipe, even for Arizona’s 32nd ranked power play (12.0%) which had not scored a PPG since January 6th. The PK group put up a fight, but seemed doomed from the onset. Fortunately, disaster was averted since Arizona took a penalty on their ensuing 5v4 carryover, which eventually resulted in Letang’s PPG. That drew the slate even, which is about the best case scenario.
- When the Pens’ power play is bad (forcing passes through lanes they know aren’t there, stagnant players standing around) it could make you want to pull your hair out. When it is good, like tonight against Arizona’s 31st ranked PK (72.8% entering the night), it’s a thing of beauty with snazzy puck movement pulling the defenders way out of their lanes and burying the puck. The Pittsburgh PP vs the Arizona PK was 2 for 3 and made it look easy.
- Great game for Crosby, the highlight reel assist to Rust as one of three points, he had seven shot attempts, was dominant in the faceoff circle to the tune of 64%. While some of the team started flat, that didn’t apply to the leader.
- Rust was excellent too, matching his center with a three point night (1G+2A). Letang got on the board twice, his second goal the perfect example of how he can influence and add offense as an extra player in the zone, and if the game needed insurance and getting tucked on into bed, Letang removed all doubts with his tally to push it to 5-3.
- Still can’t believe Brian Boyle did that. It’s as if he’s morphing into the 2022 version of Matt Cullen’s very large brother from the previous version of great Penguin teams right before our eyes.
Make it 17 wins in the last 19 games for the streaking Pens, who will look to feast on another Western Conference bottom-dweller in their next game Thursday night against Seattle.