The Pittsburgh Penguins (2-0-0) return to Mellon Arena tonight as they face off against the Western Conference’s Phoenix Coyotes (1-0-0) at 7:30 PM. This is the only matchup between these two teams this season. Last season, they met only once (in Phoenix) with the Coyotes winning 4-1. The Penguins are looking for their 3rd consecutive win after beating the Rangers 3-2 at home and the Islanders 4-3 in a shootout on the road. The Coyotes will be playing their 2nd game of the season after beating the Los Angeles Kings 6-3.
The financially bankrupt Coyotes come into Mellon Arena under new head coach (and former Penguin) Dave Tippett, who replaced Wayne Gretzky during training camp. The Coyotes, who haven’t made it into the playoffs in 6 years, are a team whose future is unknown; ownership of the franchise is being contested through bankruptcy court and it remains to be seen if the team will stay in Phoenix beyond the end of this season. While the off-ice distractions and fan apathy in Phoenix could be an excuse for continued mediocrity, the Coyotes found a way to use it as a motivator in their season opening win over the Kings. “It was the first time they could say, ‘We’re on the ice. Just go,’ ” said Coyotes’ Coach Tippett. “We can only control what happens on the ice and the other stuff will take care of itself. I think the players were really focused on getting playing. The players did a good job of blocking that stuff out probably the last couple of weeks and getting themselves ready to play.” Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan added, “We have that ‘us against everybody’ thing going….and we’re trying to use it as much as we can.” Doan, who led the Coyotes scoring in 2008-09 with 73-points (31G, 42A), will benefit from quality additions on his line with Radim Vrbata and (former Penguin) Robert Lang joining the team this season. Vrbata had 2-goals and Lang added 1 in the team’s 6-3 drubbing of Los Angeles on Saturday. In fact, 11 different Coyotes found their way onto the scoresheet in that game. With quality netminding from Ilya Byzgalov, upgraded offense, a new coach and adversity that the team can rally around, the Coyotes might just bear watching this season.
The Penguins will be looking to continue to perfect Coach Bylsma’s up-tempo style and system of aggressive puck pursuit. Through two games, the Penguins have done a great job of putting traffic in front of the net and pressuring the defense, something that was missing from their game at this time last season under Coach Michel Therrien. The Penguins also seen to be putting more shots on net, which will help them keep the pressure on opposing team’s defense and goaltending and help create the type of havoc that often times leads to goals. The Penguins have also fared well in the face-off circle so far this season (54.6%), but they will need to keep the pressure on as Phoenix won 60.6% of their faceoffs against the Kings. Marc-Andre Fleury’s timing and positioning appear to be better at this point of the season than it has at early on in season’s past. His play was one of the keys to the Penguins’ win against the Islanders on Saturday night. Look for another up-tempo game that may lack some of the aggressive physicality that you will see in Thursday’s game against the Flyers. The Pens line-up for tonight’s game is expected to be as follows:
Penguins' Forward Lines - as of 8 Oct 11
1st Line 2nd Line 3rd Line 4th Line Added Depth/IR
Penguins' Defensive Pairings - as of 8 Oct 2011
1st Pairing 2nd Pairing 3rd Pairing Added Depth/IR
#1 Goaltender Backup Netminder