The Pittsburgh Penguins looked like a team that failed to prepare for what the Phoenix Coyotes threw at them on Wednesday night. The Coyotes put on a clinic and bogged down the Penguins in the offensive and neutral zones, preventing Pittsburgh from gaining any momentum. In fact, the only momentum that the Penguins could generate was tilting the ice towards backup netminder Brent Johnson who, despite giving up 2 goals (the 3rd tally was an empty netter), performed exceptionally with a couple of highlight reel saves. In the end, the Penguins were dealt a 3-0 shutout and their first loss of the season at the hands of the Coyotes. It was a lackluster performance, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the waning days under Michel Therrien.
In watching the game, I couldn’t help but think that the Penguins underestimated just how well the Coyotes would play. Perhaps they were too focused on tonight’s game against the division rival Philadelphia Flyers, and were looking beyond the Coyotes. Whatever the case, their play suffered from a lack of focus and inability to establish any presence in the offensive zone and was further hampered by a rash of penalties, nine of them to be exact. To their credit, the Coyotes capitalized on 2 of the 9 power-play attempts, including a beauty of a goal from Petr Prucha while he was on his back in the crease. Evgeni Malkin took a double minor in the first period for an inadvertent high stick that drew blood. The ensuing Coyote power play also drew blood, as veteran Ed Jovanoski found the back of the net to put them up 1-0. In the 2nd period, the Penguins’ frustration and penalty troubles mounted as Sidney Crosby took 2 separate penalties for slashing, Matt Cooke took two seperate penalties for interference and roughing, and Brooks Orpik took a hooking call. Cooke’s interference call negated the only goal that the Penguins might have gotten as the call was made before the puck went into the net. Orpik’s penalty resulted in the Prucha powerplay goal. The Penguins went on to take 2 more penalties in the 3rd period, and despite getting a total of 5 powerplay opportunities themselves in the game they were unable to convert. Despite only being outshot 25-24, the Penguins were clearly out-hustled and out-played through most of the game.
Sidney Crosby had a night that he would probably just as soon forget. In addition to taking 2 frustration-fueled slashing penalties in the 2nd, he was a dismal 5 for 17 (29%) in the faceoff circle. He also had 4 giveaways. When your star center and team Captain plays like that, you can’t expect much else to go your way. Let’s hope whatever was affecting his play last night is out of his system, and that he returns to form against the Flyers this evening.
If there were a few bright spots to take away from the game, it would have to be the play of Brent Johnson and Jordan Staal. Brent Johnson turned aside 22 of 24 shots, including a spectacular glove save on Shane Doan. One of the two goals he gave up came through a screen and he never had a chance to see it. The other goal came at the end of a scramble in the crease where the defense failed to clear the puck and Johnson lost track of it. Jordan Staal had a monstrous night in the faceoff circle winning 12 of 13 for a 92% faceoff percentage. Whatever he has done to improve his faceoff performance, he now needs to apply to his shooting accuracy. Jordan Staal has already proven his immense defensive prowess and now needs to tap into his enormous offensive potential.
It will be interesting to see how Coach Bylsma responds to just his 2nd regulation loss in the regular season since taking over as head coach in Feb 2009. There will be little time for him to make a teachable moment out of last night’s performance. He needs to quickly get his team re-focused for tonight’s battle against the Philadelphia Flyers, who have been shot out of a cannon this season. The Flyers are 3-0 so far this season with a qhopping 13 goals for and just 7 goals against. The Penguins will need to mount a big turnaround from last night’s game if they want to come out of Philadelphia with a win.