Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde have nothing on the Phoenix Coyotes. Two-days removed from losing to the worst team in the NHL the Coyotes regrouped and knocked off one of the league's elite. In front of a standing room only crowd at Jobing.com Arena the Coyotes beat the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Saturday night.
Coyotes goalie Mike Smith made his first start after sitting the last two-games in favor of his backup Thomas Greiss. Smith stopped 20 of 21-shots and improved his record to 19-15-9.
“It was a great effort,” Smith said. “It was a game I wanted to get back into and get some confidence back.”
The Coyotes defense was impressive as they shutdown the NHL's fourth highest scoring offense and its top offensive threat Sidney Crosby. Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson had the unenviable task of taking on Crosby and held him in check with no goals or assists.
“Everything a top defenseman has ever had in his game he's (Ekman-Larsson) got it,” Smith said. “He's got all the right tools. Physically he's a strong kid for how skinny he is and he's a smart hockey player. All those things mixed together makes for a great player. Obviously to play against Crosby and that whole line is tremendous in the way he played.”
The Coyotes offense struck first.
At 12:43 in the opening period Phoenix forward Mike Ribeiro blasted a wrist shot from just beyond the point for his 14th goal of the season and the 200th of his career. David Schlemko and Antoine Vermette tallied assists on the play.
With the assist Vermette continued his point streak to seven games and in that span he seven-goals and three-assists.
Phoenix increased their lead to 2-0 midway through the second period on Zbynek Michalek's first goal since March 5, 2012. Michalek ironically enough scored that goal while playing for Pittsburgh and it was against Phoenix.
“I almost forgot (how it feels to score a goal),” Michaelek said. “It's been almost two years so it definitely felt good. Hopefully I don't have to wait that long for the next goal.”
Pittsburgh cut the lead in half after Evgeni Makin scored his 16th goal of the season with less than five minutes left in the second period.
But there would be no comeback win for the Penguins as they were blanked for the rest of the evening.
With the win the Coyotes improved to 26-19-10 and are one-point behind the Vancouver Canucks for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Phoenix has three-games remaining before the NHL takes a break for the Winter Olympics and their next game is Tuesday against the visiting Dallas Stars.
“So going forward it was a good win but you've got to turn the page and make sure we come out with the same effort on Tuesday,” Michalek said. “Our margin for error is small and if we don't do the right things we can't win.”