Good afternoon hockey fans. The Pens look to bounce back from a 3-0 loss to Dallas on Thursday night in a desert showdown against the Arizona Coyotes.
One area the Pens want to improve upon entering tonight’s game is their penalty killing. Pittsburgh allowed two power-play goals to the Stars on five opportunities. Part of that is the discipline to stay out of the box. The other part is the actual work of the PK unit when on the ice.
To help with the team’s penalty killing, Pittsburgh is inserting forward Kevin Porter into the lineup in place of Bobby Farnham. Porter is an avid, veteran penalty killer and his presence should help the group.
“I have to come with a lot of energy, keep things simple, play a smart, defensive game,” Porter told me. “That’s the biggest thing, I have to play well defensively and try to chip in offensively, wear their D down, get pucks deep, hit a little bit and create some chaos.”
The Pens held their morning skate at the Ice Den, the Coyotes practice facility, and used the following workflow…
BEHIND ENEMY LINES The Coyotes did not hold a morning skate Saturday. They are hosting the Pens on the backend of back-to-back contests. On Friday night Arizona defeated the Los Angeles Kings, 4-1, at the STAPLES Center. The star of the game may have been goaltender Mike Smith, who stopped 40 of 41 shots he faced in the contest.
Unless the Coyotes play Smith on back-to-back nights – not out of the question this early in the season – the Pens may get a break and see Andres Lindback between the pipes. Although head coach Dave Tippet told Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic that Smith may get the nod again vs. Pittsburgh. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t,” he said of starting Smith. “But I’ll just make sure everything is all right injury-wise and stuff.”
Either way, Pittsburgh has been successful against both netminders. Smith is 1-4 with a 3.11 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in six starts against Pittsburgh. Lindback is 0-3-1 with a 4.08 GAA and .868 save percentage against the Pens. Crosby alone has seven goals and 10 points in five games against Lindback, including a hat trick Oct. 12, 2013 at Tampa Bay.
MATCHUP The Coyotes are a team that likes to trap in the neutral zone and slow down the play. They’ve been a strong, defensive team ever since head coach Dave Tippett took the reigns in 2009.
Arizona will try to clog up any passing lanes through the middle. The Pens are a team that thrives on using quick passes and explosive breakouts. But anytime they play a team that likes to trap, Pittsburgh often times becomes frustrated.
“We know how Arizona wants to play. They’ve added some speed and skill, but they want to play a disciplined game,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy told me. “We have to also do that. We can’t get frustrated.”
The Pens’ patience will be a key factor in the game. There’s no doubt the Coyotes are going to eliminate a lot of gaps and passing lanes in the middle of the ice. Pittsburgh will have to be very strong on their breakouts, attacking with speed and using crisp passing to hit the small gaps in Arizona’s trap. If the Pens don’t, they’re going to run into a wall. From there the Pens will be forced to dump and retrieve, or even peel back and regroup.
As long as the Pens keep their cool, don’t let the frustration over take them and stay out of the box, the Pens should be successful.
SIDE NOTE Tonight will be the first game between Pittsburgh and Arizona since last March when Coyotes forward Shane Doan hit Pens blueliner Kris Letang backwards into the end boards, knocking him out for the rest of the season with a concussion.
“It’s a hockey play. It was not necessarily a dirty play,” Letang told reporters and team employees after the team’s morning skate. “It’s not something I’ll spend too much time talking about.”
GAME INFO Where: Gila River Arena When: Saturday, 10 p.m. TV: ROOT Sports Radio: WXDX, Penguins radio network Social: @penguins, @PensInsideScoop