Key Observations Heading Into Game 75 Between the Penguins and Coyotes


By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)

The Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-11) will play the Arizona Coyotes (23-44-8) for the second time in exactly a week this afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center. Last Saturday, Pittsburgh was able to snap a four-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Coyotes. Today, the Penguins will look to snap a two-game losing streak after losses to the St. Louis Blues and Carolina Hurricanes, respectively. Pittsburgh played well against St. Louis, but the game against Carolina was one of the worst games of the season. The Penguins continued to struggle offensively and looked even worse defensively, which is something we haven’t seen too much this year.

Enter Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, who are both game-time decisions for today’s game. Both players haven’t been able to play in several games with different injuries and have been really missed, to say the least. Malkin is obviously one of the best players in the NHL and Pittsburgh is really missing his production. Hornqvist is the Penguins’ main net-presence guy, which is important to their offense. When both of them are out of the lineup, the  Penguins’ forwards group takes a major hit. Malkin skated on his normal line with Chris Kunitz and Blake Comeau in yesterday’s practice while Hornqvist was in and out of the line rushes. Therefore, Malkin may be feeling a bit better than Hornqvist at this moment. However, don’t count either of them out of the lineup just. Both of them know the Penguins need two points in this game. Speaking of Malkin, how about his recent comments to the media about the team? After yesterday’s practice, Malkin said “We’re playing so bad right now. It’s true. Not just one guy. It’s the whole team. The last game, I think it’s the worst game of the season. It’s not fun to watch, We should play better, the whole team.” I love it. This is something we haven’t really seen from Malkin until this season as he seems to be really blossoming into a great leader on this team. His return could really spark Pittsburgh in more ways than one.

Christian Ehrhoff will not play tonight and is not expected to start skating until next week. At this point, Ehrhoff should probably just wait until the playoffs to come back. I loved the signing of Ehrhoff in the offseason, but this recent stretch has been frustrating. He has not been able to stay healthy and I honestly expected more offense from the defenseman. Don’t get me wrong. The Penguins are a better team with him in the lineup, but I’m glad the two sides broke off extension talks in January. Ehrhoff may look for a raise as well as a long-term deal and I’m not sure that’s something the Penguins will be interested in doing with his health in question.

Thomas Greiss, who left Arizona via free agency to sign with the Penguins this past summer, will face his former team for the first time since signing with Pittsburgh today. It will be his first start since March 17th, where he was tagged for a loss in 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils. It will be his 19th appearance of the season. Greiss will be opposed by Arizona’s Mike Smith, who started against the Penguins a week ago. Smith will certainly think twice before clearing the puck from behind the net after Brandon Sutter scored off one of his clearing attempts with his backside. The Penguins were awful in the first period of that game, but eventually woke up in the second period. Pittsburgh needs to play a sixty minute game today in order to build some confidence.

Looking at the playoff race, the Penguins are only two points behind the New York Islanders, but are only one point ahead of the Washington Capitals. What’s even more concerning though is that the Penguins are only six points ahead of the Ottawa Senators, who own the last playoff spot in the East. Yes, there are only eight games left in the season, but the Senators are 8-2 in their last ten games while Pittsburgh is 3-5-2.

As I usually do, let’s take a look at what the Coyotes have been doing this year…or maybe what they’re not doing. It has been a disappointing season for the Coyotes as their record has pushed them down to one of the worst teams in the NHL. They are ranked 29th in the league in goals for per game and are ranked 28th in goals against per game. Not a good combination at all. Coyotes fans are now focused on increasing their odds to get the right to draft Connor McDavid, which would be pretty big for the franchise since they are struggling with attendance in their home building. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson leads the Coyotes in goals (21) and points (40), which are impressive numbers for a defenseman. Arizona just traded their other star defenseman Keith Yandle to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline in exchange for Anthony Duclair, John Moore and a first-round pick. That was a pretty nice package for the Coyotes. Duclair has a lot of potential after being drafted 80th overall in 2013. The Coyotes also acquired defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and a first-round pick from the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Antoine Vermette, which is simply incredible given the fact that Vermette is nothing more than a second/third line player. So, from a future standpoint, things look bright for this Coyotes team. With a top three pick in this year’s draft plus two more in the first round, Arizona should pick up some quality players this summer. As far as forwards go, Sam Gagner and captain Shane Doan are leading the way. This team isn’t good this season, but in a few years, they could be competing for the playoffs once again. The Coyotes currently have former Penguins Joe Vitale and Mark Arcobello on the active roster.

With or without Malkin/Hornqvist, I think many people would agree a regulation win for the Penguins would be the best thing to happen for both teams. Pittsburgh could use a good performance in front of their concerned fanbase.