Justin Schultz's return helps ignite Penguins in win over Coyotes
Recovering from a concussion while his teammates were on a western road trip, defenseman Justin Schultz spent the better part of the last week cooped up alone in his house.
When he finally was set free Tuesday night, he took it out on the Arizona Coyotes.
Schultz scored a first-minute goal, and the Penguins snapped a two-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena.
As effective as it might have been, Schultz said he has no plans to lock himself up in solitary confinement for another week before any upcoming games.
"No, because that was torture," said Schultz, who missed the previous six games. "It was just good to be back with the guys. It was tough being here alone. To get back into games, it was awesome."
Schultz's goal came on a bad-angle one-timer from the left-wing corner 59 seconds into the game.
Seeing the puck bank in off the skate of goalie Antti Raanta was a welcome sight for the Penguins. During their 1-3-1 western road trip, opposing goaltenders had a .954 save percentage against them.
From coach Mike Sullivan's perspective, though, the best thing about Schultz's return might have been the way it allowed the Penguins to manage minutes on the blue line.
Kris Letang, off to a rough start to the season, has been averaging more than 26 minutes per game. On Tuesday, he played a more favorable 23 minutes and change.
"It's a big difference," Sullivan said. "It gives Tanger an opportunity to recover more completely before he's going back on the ice. It gives him an opportunity to play more quality minutes."
After Schultz gave the Penguins an early lead, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel teamed to secure the victory. They each had a goal and two assists.
In the third period, after Tobias Rieder pulled Arizona within a goal, Malkin and Kessel connected to score on the Penguins' sixth power-play chance of the game. Kessel waited for a popped-up Malkin shot to fall below the crossbar behind Raanta before slashing it into the net.
In the first period, Malkin cashed in the airborne rebound of a Kessel shot from the right wing.
When Malkin scored, it gave the Penguins more than one five-on-five goal in a game for the first time since Oct. 17.
"We played lots of power play, lots of offensive zone and scored a couple five-on-five goals," Malkin said. "It's very important for us, for sure. Now maybe we'll have more confidence and score more."
While Sullivan insisted he saw steady improvement in his team's five-on-five play over the previous three games, he said it was important for the Penguins to be rewarded with a win.
"We can talk about process all we want," Sullivan said. "We've got to get results at some point."
A special teams discrepancy also played a significant role in the outcome of the game.
While the Penguins went on the power play six times, the Coyotes had just one man-advantage and didn't score on it.
Former Penguins assistant Rick Tocchet was critical of his team's inability to stay out of the penalty box.
"The PK did a hell of a job," Tocchet said. "We got some zone time, a little bit, but you can't give that team (12) minutes of power plays."
Tocchet said he was moved by an ovation the arena crowd gave him after a tribute was played on the video board during the first period.
"This is a great place. I love it here," Tocchet said. "A lot of good memories. I saw a lot of people before the game. It was nice. A lot of classy people around here."
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.