After being shut out by the physical, tight-checking Blues on Sunday, the Pens played another stingy defensive team in the Coyotes on Tuesday.
And while Pittsburgh was able to create more offense against Phoenix, the Pens weren’t able to get the job done for a second straight game as they followed up their 1-0 loss to St. Louis with a 3-2 defeat to the Coyotes at CONSOL Energy Center. Pittsburgh has now won just two of its last six contests.
“I think St. Louis was a different game, they played hard,” Pens captain Sidney Crosby said. “Tonight for whatever reason, whether we didn’t recover from an emotional game against St. Louis and didn’t have that same jump and energy that we needed tonight, we didn’t execute well. Just get back to that and hopefully get a win here next game.”
Despite dominating the opening few minutes of play, the Pens fell behind early when the Coyotes capitalized on a defensive-zone breakdown. From there, it was an uphill battle, which is never ideal – especially against a suffocating defensive team like Phoenix.
Pittsburgh was able to battle back from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 with goals from Jussi Jokinen and former Coyote Taylor Pyatt, but they couldn’t find a way to come back down 3-2.
“When they get a lead they're a tough team to play against,” Pyatt said. “They clog up the neutral zone pretty good. We just weren't able to break through.”
Even with the regulation loss, the Pens still could have clinched their eighth-straight postseason berth if the if the Maple Leafs lost to the Blues in any fashion AND the Capitals lost to the Kings in regulation. And while Toronto did lose in regulation, Washington fell in a shootout. So the Pens’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot is now one.
TOO MANY PENALTIES
It didn’t help that discipline was again an issue for the Pens on Tuesday night, as they took too many unnecessary penalties and paid for them. Phoenix essentially went 2-for-5 with the man-advantage, as they were officially credited with one power-play goal in the second period while the other – which ended up being the winner – was scored right as a penalty expired in the third.
Pittsburgh's penalty killers had to jump over the boards far too often at crucial times in this game, including three times in the third period with the Pens down one and battling to even the score. It's not easy to net a tying goal when you're a man short, but the Pens kept putting themselves in that horrible position with a trio of offensive-zone penalties.
“We’ve been talking about (composure) for one or two weeks now," center Brandon Sutter said. "We’ve had it happen several times and it’s not any one guy. It’s a team thing and we have to do a better job of that. It’s the kind of penalties where you don’t take those in the playoffs, there’s no reason to take them now. We have to be smarter on that.”
It was back to the future for the Pens in the first period of Tuesday’s game.
After David Moss opened the scoring for Phoenix, the Pens were given a power play shortly after. And 1:23 into the man-advantage, it appeared as though Jokinen had tied it up by finishing off a beautiful passing play from James Neal and Crosby – but the refs waved it off and play continued.
For another two minutes and 35 seconds.
Until Crosby, who had immediately raised his arms in celebration from the side of the net as he watched Jokinen’s shot go in, FINALLY got a stoppage when he alertly iced the puck so that the refs could review the play. And the captain was right – though it was in and out in the blink of an eye, Jokinen’s shot had definitely hit the netting (it clearly the underside of the water-bottle holder).
That meant the 2:35 the teams played had to be put back on the clock. Anything that happened during that time – shots, hits, turnovers, takeaways – did not count on the official scoresheet. It was like it never happened.
Taylor Pyatt made sure the Pens wouldn't go into the first intermission down a goal when he tipped Rob Scuderi’s shot from the point past Coyotes goalie Thomas Greiss with 4.1 seconds left in the period to even the score 2-2.
The goal topped off Pyatt’s finest shift as a Penguin. He was absolutely battling out there, using his size and strength to hold off two guys as he took it all the way around the net from the half wall and worked it back to Simon Despres at the point. From there, Pyatt beelined straight to the net, where he continued to make his presence known as he screened Greiss and was able to tip the puck past him.
“I just tried to get in on the forecheck,” Pyatt said. “The puck got back to the D. They went to the other D and got it toward the net. I was just able to get my stick on it. I lost it for a second. Then I turned and saw it in the net. It's definitely a nice feeling to get one.”
It was Pyatt’s third goal with the Pens, and his first since Jan. 22 vs. Montreal. And with the way it’d been going for him recently – he was a healthy scratch three out of the last four games entering tonight – it was definitely a big one for him.
“I'm trying to get back in the lineup and make a difference,” Pyatt said. “I was in and out the last little while. I'm trying to play with a little more confidence and make some plays. I felt better tonight, but disappointed we weren't able to get a win."
Author: Michelle Crechiolo