Crosby held in check again as Coyotes streak past Penguins
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sidney Crosby has two goals in his past nine games.
This is not time to panic, as the NHL playoffs don't begin for another 10 weeks.
The Olympic tournament starts for Team Canada, which Crosby will captain in Sochi, Russia, in less than two weeks.
So, indeed, the Penguins' three games before the Olympic break will matter for their best player — and for coach Dan Bylsma, who watched his club lose for the third time in seven games, 3-1, to the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on Saturday night.
“This was indicative of the types of games we are going to play — tight games, tough games,” Bylsma said.
The Penguins attempted 57 shots, but the Coyotes blocked 20, and their defense forced the Penguins to miss on 13.
“We had good chances,” said Crosby, who directed two of his five shot attempts on net. “(Coyotes goalie Mike Smith) made the saves.”
Smith was bested only by Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, whose 16th goal late in the second period pulled his club within 2-1.
An early third-period marker by Coyotes winger Radim Vrbata restored their two-goal cushion and sealed the win.
Vrbata nearly secured another spot for a Penguins defenseman on the injured list late in the game. A puck off his stick struck rookie Olli Maatta in the jaw.
Maatta sported a swollen right cheek but said he was OK after the game.
“It's his fourth puck in the face in about five days,” Bylsma said. “From the report I have, he'll be fine, but it was scary to see that again out there.”
The Penguins played again without defenseman Kris Letang, who missed a second consecutive contest because of illness. He has missed 21 games this season.
The Coyotes, fighting for their playoff lives in a statistically superior Western Conference, deployed defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson often against Crosby's top line.
Crosby and wingers Chris Kunitz and Brian Gibbons combined to attempt 10 shots.
Malkin's second line was credited with 24 attempts, but Malkin and James Neal misfired on a collective nine.
“We have to be better at hitting the net, and that starts with me,” said Neal, who is without a goal in eight games.
The NHL's leading scorer and a top MVP candidate, Crosby has posted eight points since his run with points in 17 of 18 games from Dec. 3-Jan. 7. The Penguins went 14-3-0 during that stretch, and Crosby scored 12 of his 27 overall goals and produced 31 of his 75 total points.
The Penguins (38-15-2, 78 points) built a huge division lead and a considerable conference advantage during Crosby's month of prolific scoring.
However, they could benefit from a strong finish before the NHL breaks for three weeks next Saturday.
Of their final three opponents before the Olympics — Ottawa (Monday), at Buffalo (Wednesday) and New York (Friday) — only the Rangers began Saturday holding a playoff spot.
“You want to play well, no matter where the games are in the schedule,” Neal said. “No matter who you're playing, we just have to get back to doing it every night.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Linebacker Harrison coming along slowly since return to Steelers
- Steelers notebook: Shazier returns just in time
- Murder charge held against Laurel Mountain man
- Penn-Trafford remains unbeaten, shuts out Norwin
- Franklin Regional downs Gateway, wraps up 2nd place in Greater Allegheny Conference
- Defense grows up fast for No. 22 West Virginia
- Penn State seeks recruiting win in ‘whiteout’ game
- Critics claim state Attorney General Kane puts politics first
- Mt. Pleasant eliminates Southmoreland, earns home playoff game
- Gorman: Rivals North Hills, North Allegheny join to battle cancer
- Interchange named for longtime Democratic Party leader who advocated for Mon-Fayette Expressway