Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 4-3 shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday at Gila River Arena.
* What a terrific road trip for the Penguins. They rattled off three straight wins against some tough teams - Vegas, Colorado and now Arizona - to give them six of a possible six points.
"It was obviously a great trip," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "When we were looking at this trip coming out we knew it was going to be a real tough trip playing against some real good teams that are playing pretty good hockey. So the fact that we're able to take six points out of it is a credit to the team. They're playing hard. Guys are competing out there. We're finding different ways to win. Different guys are stepping up at key times and we're getting saves. I give the players a lot of credit. We're battling."
* Tonight it was Brandon Tanev and Teddy Blueger who stepped up at key times.
After the Coyotes took a 3-2 lead with 8:32 left to play, Tanev made a terrific play to strip a Coyotes forward of the puck and deposit it into the back of the net to tie the game and help ensure the Penguins would at least get one point.
It was Blueger who helped ensure that the Penguins would finish with two. As the shootout dragged on and Blueger lined up as the eighth shooter for Pittsburgh, he sniped a shot past Coyotes goaltender Adin Hill. Down at the other end, Tristan Jarry made the stop to seal the win.
Blueger and Tanev also played an instrumental role in the Penguins going a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. Those two were not only helping shut it down defensively; they created chances offensively. At one point, Tanev did a great job of holding onto the puck, skating it out of the Penguins' zone and sending him and Blueger on a shorthanded 2-on-1. On another Arizona power play, the Penguins actually outshot the Coyotes 3-0.
I just can't say enough about the way their line with Zach Aston-Reese has been playing. Tonight, in addition to being fantastic defensively, they had a couple of extended offensive-zone shifts that really helped shift momentum onto Pittsburgh's side. They've been so good across all 200 feet of the ice as of late.
* The Penguins were dominant on special teams in this game. They also went 2-for-4 on the power play - including a 5-on-3 tally.
While the Penguins' second power-play unit had been getting the job done the last couple of games - scoring in Vegas and finding the back of the net seconds after a penalty expired in Colorado - tonight the first power-play unit stepped up.
It took the Penguins nearly no time at all to cash in on the 5-on-3 attempt. Bryan Rust settled a pass from Evgeni Malkin onto his forehand and pushed it across the crease to Jared McCann - who stuffed it in the net before the goaltender could react to give him his second goal in as many games.
The Penguins then converted their second attempt early in the second after Patric Hornqvist one-timed a feed from Malkin. His pair of power-play assists gave him 642 for his career - which moved him past Jaromir Jagr (640) for sole possession of third place on the Penguins' all time assists list.
"It was about making good decisions and execution," Sullivan said. "The 5-on-3 was really good. That's something we've worked on a fair amount. I think they were sharp. They made good decisions with the puck and they executed. The 5-on-4 goal was the same thing. I just thought we were sharper. We made better decisions and as a result we gave ourselves some pretty good looks."
* While I thought the Penguins had a decent first, the Coyotes did a good job of keeping them to the perimeter. They recorded just two shots in the period, with McCann scoring on the first one.
The Penguins regrouped and came out flying for the second. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at Hill, outshooting Arizona 22-6 in the frame. Hill was swarmed, but he was up for the challenge and came up with some big stops to keep his team in the game despite the Penguins tilting the ice hard.
To the Penguins' credit, they didn't get frustrated and eventually battled back to get the job done.
"It was not pretty, but we played hard," Malkin said. "It was a long road trip. Sometimes (a night like this) just happens. We played hard every shift. It's an amazing team. We showed tonight that it was not pretty a game for us for sure, but we will take the two points. Our goalie played unbelievable. I like it."