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Game #31 Preview: Arizona at Pittsburgh

Phil Kessel returns to former home, Raanta gets the nod, Coyotes look to remain perfect on road trip

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Game Preview

GAME #31: ARIZONA (17-9-4) at PITTSBURGH (15-9-4)

5:00 PM MST - PPG Paints Arena | Pittsburgh, PA

TV: Fox Sports Arizona (Matt McConnell, Tyson Nash, Todd Walsh)

Radio: Fox Sports 910 AM Phoenix (Bob Heethuis)

Referees: Pierre Lambert #37, Trevor Hanson #14

Linesmen: Derek Amell #75, Derek Nansen #70

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ARIZONA AT PITTSBURGH

The Coyotes continue their four-game road trip tonight, playing the second half of their Pennsylvania back-to-back as they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena, marking the first of the team's two scheduled meetings this season.

Pittsburgh will visit Gila River Arena on January 12 to close out the season series.

All eyes will be on Phil Kessel tonight, who returns to Pittsburgh for the first time since being acquired by the Coyotes in late June.

"A big piece of his heart's been here, he won two Stanley Cups, fans love him, as does the whole organization," head coach Rick Tocchet said. "It was a good thing and I'm excited for him because it's deserved that he comes back, gets recognized, moves on and plays the game."

Alex Galchenyuk, the main export in the Kessel trade, has 10 points (2G, 8A) in 19 games with the Penguins this season. Kessel, coming off a two-goal performance, has 17 points (6G, 11A) in 30 games with Arizona.

The Coyotes are coming off a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday and have begun their road trip with two straight wins.

The Penguins are coming off a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday to open a quick two-game home stand, and in doing so, extended their home point streak to nine games (7-0-2). Pittsburgh has earned points in 13 of its 16 home games this season.

"They're hard on the puck, there's always three on the puck, that's Mike Sullivan's style," Tocchet added of tonight's opponent.

Antti Raanta is projected to start, making his 11th of the season and his first since last Saturday. No other changes are expected to be made to the lineup the team used Thursday in Philadelphia.

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THREE THINGS

KESSEL'S RETURN: Phil Kessel returns to Pittsburgh tonight for the first time since the June 29 trade that brought him to Arizona in exchange for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Kessel played in 328 games for the Penguins over the course of four seasons, putting up 303 points (110G, 193A) and winning two Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017.

VISITING VICTORS: In serving the Philadelphia Flyers just their second home regulation loss of the season Thursday night, the Coyotes set a new franchise record for the fewest games needed to reach 10 road wins, doing so in 16 games, eclipsing the previous record of 17 set during the 2011-12 campaign. Arizona is 10-3-3 on the road this season, tied with the St. Louis Blues for the second-best road record in the NHL. The Penguins, 11-3-2 as hosts, enter the night with the league's third-best home record in the league.

WORKING EARLY: The Coyotes' two wins to open their current four-game road trip have been sparked by netting the game's opening goal to claim a first period lead. Arizona has improved to 12-2-1 when netting the game's first goal this year and is 11-2-1 when leading after one period of play. The Coyotes are outscoring opponents 29-18 in first periods this season, their +11 first period goal differential is tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the best in the NHL.

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LAST TIME AROUND

JANUARY 18, 2019 - ARIZONA (2) vs. PITTSBURGH (3) F/OT

The Coyotes opened the scoring and struck late to send the teams' previous meeting to overtime, but ultimately fell when, ironically enough, Phil Kessel netted the overtime-winner.

Clayton Keller have Arizona a 1-0 lead in the first, Pittsburgh responded with two second period goals, and Derek Stepan knotted the score with just over five minutes to play in regulation. Kessel's overtime game-winner came with 50 seconds remaining in the extra frame.

Darcy Kuemper made 32 saves in the overtime loss.

The Coyotes finished with an 0-1-1 record against the Penguins last season.

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NUMBER TO KNOW

THIRTEEN (13)

When the Coyotes score on the power play, they're virtually unbeatable. With two power play goals scored Thursday night in Philadelphia, the Coyotes improved to 12-0-1 in games when they convert on the man advantage, earning a point in all 13 contests.

Arizona has scored a power play goal in five of its previous seven games, totaling six.

Phil Kessel leads the team with five power play goals, while Carl Soderberg and Christian Dvorak each have three. Nine players have accounted for the Coyotes' 18 power play goals scored this season.

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QUICK HITS

  • Nick Schmaltz has seven points (2G, 5A) in four career games against the Penguins.
  • The Penguins have earned points in six straight games against the Coyotes (6-0-1) dating back to February 29, 2016.
  • The Coyotes are 11-1-1 this season when Carl Soderberg records a point.
  • Christian Dvorak enters the night with a career-long five-game point streak (2G, 4A).
  • Evgeni Malkin has 21 points (6G, 15A) in 16 career games against the Coyotes.
  • Tonight marks Derek Stepan's 700th career NHL game.
  • Arizona owns a 30-44-3-3 all-time record against Pittsburgh.

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Lead Photo Credit: Emilee Chinn - Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Joe Sargent - Getty Images // GIF Highlight Footage: Fox Sports Arizona

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