The big guns stayed mostly quiet for the second straight game as the Penguins fell to the Coyotes late Saturday night.
Other than a vintage Phil Kessel goal, the Pens looked tentative on offense.
Sid was held without a shot for the second straight game.
If the Penguins are going to succeed this season with a patchwork defensive unit, the big-time stars need to generate early and sustained offensive pressure.
That hasn’t happened thus far. Crosby has deferred to Kessel almost exclusively in these first two games. Certainly, it makes sense to feed Kessel, considering his goal-scoring pedigree. However, Crosby has looked like he is actively refusing to take shots even when presented with the opportunity.
Hopefully the problem is simply a matter of adjusting to new linemates. If not, it’s going to be a long season for a team that sacrificed a chance to shore up a suspect defense in favor of adding some big names on offense.
In general, the Coyotes were beating the Penguins to pucks, picking off errant passes and feasting on miscommunications between the Pens’ players.
On the positive side, Kessel hasn’t been afraid to take shots. He registered three in this one, including one goal in which he beat Shane Doan and whipped a wrister past Smith. The Pens will need to build from Kessel’s example to turn around this early-season losing streak.
Elsewhere, Plotnikov has looked relatively soft on the puck. He actually earned himself a demotion to the third line mid-game and responded with increased energy. Unfortunately, through two games, Plotnikov has reminded me of Alexei Ponikarovsky – big body, skillful hands, but meek when playing the puck.
Bottom line, the Coyotes shouldn’t be a challenge for a team with this much talent, certainly not if the Penguins plan to compete in the Metro Division this year. There’s lots of work ahead, but it’s far too early to panic.
Early in the first, the Penguins’ top line struggled to escape from their own zone.
The second line struggled as well until Stefan Elliott held Malkin and took a penalty. On the ensuing powerplay, the Martin Hanzal almost scored a shorthanded goal. The Pens failed to score, though Letang and Cole looked to have some good chemistry on the top unit.
Hanzal continued to fly around the ice in the first, manufacturing scoring chances and limiting the Pens’ forwards.
Halfway through the first, the top line broke into the Coyotes’ zone and the puck found its way to Kunitz’s stick. Kunitz, predictably, flubbed the shot and the puck wandered past the net.
Hornqvist went hard to the net and slammed Brad Richardson into Mike Smith. Smith stayed on the ice, clutching at his head, for a period of several minutes. After collecting his wits, Smith stayed on the ice. Hornqvist went to the box but the Coyotes’ PP stayed fairly quiet.
Near the end of the period, Perron dumped and chased into the Coyotes’ zone, setting up a good cycle and ending with Perron getting in a scuffle with Grossman in front of the net. If Perron’s going to keep playing on the lower lines, he’ll need to keep focusing on puck possession and physical play like this. Perron added a solid scoring chance on the powerplay as well.
Sprong almost got his first NHL goal when Plotnikov set him up in the slot. Sprong eyed up the net and rang it off the post behind Smith. Sprong has looked strong in his ultra-limited playing time. Hopefully HCMJ starts giving Sprong more meaningful minutes in the next few games so he can get a chance
With ten seconds left in the first, Beau Bennett took an absolutely idiotic interference penalty, taking down Oliver Ekman-Larsson at the blue line just as Letang was speeding in toward the Coyotes’ net.
The Coyotes opened the second on the powerplay. Rookie Max Domi – son of Tie Domi – played extremely well in just his second NHL game.
Maatta continued to look uncomfortable. Richardson picked Maatta’s pocket behind the Penguins’ net and nearly generated a sneaky scoring chance.
Hornqvist created another promising chance in the second, skating hard with the puck and leaving the puck in the slot for Plotnikov, who couldn’t corral the puck and put it on the net left wide open by Smith.
On the ensuing play, Duclair collected the puck behind Fleury and passed right into the slot to a wide-open Tobias Rieder, who buried it. Kevin Porter, who probably should have been covering Rieder, was nowhere to be found. Cole actually aided the Coyotes’ rush by pushing the puck back into his own zone while attempting to catch the ‘Yotes offsides.
Kessel got his goal just seconds later when he stole the puck from Doan and skated in on Smith unchallenged.
Later, Smith had a tantrum about Hornqvist’s pesky presence in the crease.
With 12 minutes left, the Steve Downie line swarmed to Fleury and managed to push the puck into the goal. Lovejoy inexplicably attempted to goaltend with Fleury down in the butterfly, and the result was a clear chance for Jordan Martinook to put a shot on the net. It was Martinook’s first NHL goal.
The period opened with the camera zoomed in on Kessel’s face. Kessel looks like he’s working on a pretty decent playoff beard. He might just be excited to be playing for a team that has a chance at the postseason.
Duclair and Lovejoy got tangled up and Lovejoy dropped his gloves, but the two just skated apart. Both were sent to the box with roughing minors.
The rest of the period passed quickly, with the teams trading scoring chances. Scuderi made a solid defensive play in a one-on-one situation. Kessel put a puck into the slot for Crosby, but the pass went behind Sid and bounced out of the zone. Then, Plotnikov and Bennett had a good shift together, each putting good shots on Smith.
The last minute of the game was chaos, with the Penguins threatening to finally put another puck behind Smith. The Coyotes interfered with Hornqvist but no penalty was called. Kessel found the puck on his stick but hesitated and missed his chance to take a shot. Doan put Malkin in a headlock in the crease as Maatta fought to push a shot home. Despite the late-game flurry, the Pens lost their second game of the season.
The Penguins face Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 13.