Pens practice 'good habits' in shutout victory over Coyotes
During the second intermission and as the final 20 minutes dwindled on Monday night in a 7-0 win over Arizona at PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins abided by the unwritten rules of hockey and never muttered a word about goalie Matt Murray's shot at a second shutout of the season. But Nick Bonino said the skaters recognized the opportunity.
They wanted it not only for their young netminder but for themselves after two-plus months of games in which they rarely kept an opponent's offense off the scoreboard.
Goals continued to come in bunches for the Penguins during their sixth consecutive win. Their tally total in the win streak increased to 35. And they took no pity upon Arizona, which entered the game with the fewest wins in the league. Preserving the shutout for Murray, who finished with 31 saves, became the priority following a four-goal second period in which the Penguins chased Coyotes starting goalie Mike Smith.
“In these games, as it gets closer to that final buzzer, you almost pick it back up a little bit and try to defend for him,” Bonino said. “Guys were blocking shots there, even in the last two minutes of a 7-0 game, and that's what you like.
“(We want to) keep good habits. We're going to play against a really strong Boston team on Wednesday, and you never want to fall out of habits. You want to be above the puck.”
Even during the Penguins' best stretches of games this season, they've made mistakes that ended up in the back of their net too frequently. When they won four in a row in late October, they gave up at least two goals in three of the four games. This latest string of victories started with a 6-2 win over Dallas on Dec. 1 and included results of 5-3, 8-5 and 4-3.
Pressure on the puck finally paid dividends for the Penguins at both ends against Arizona. The Coyotes committed defensive-zone turnovers to set up goals by Scott Wilson, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley and Bryan Rust.
Rust's goal led to Smith's exit from the game with 11:30 left in the second period. Smith stopped just 18 of 22 shots he faced, while replacement Louis Domingue turned away nine of 12.
“We don't have to cheat to get our offense,” said Sidney Crosby, who scored the Penguins' fifth goal to improve his league-best goal total to 21. “I think we're solid defensively, and that's allowing us to create offensively.”
Murray still needed to deny Coyotes on breakaways in each of the first two periods, and he stopped Shane Doan with a sprawling effort in the third period. But he shrugged at the significance of those saves.
“That's just what I try to do, is make the big saves at the right times,” Murray said. “If you can do that as a goalie, you're going to give your team the best chance to win.
“I think we just showed that the way we play, we can kind of dominate anybody if we're playing our best.”
When Mike Sullivan took over as coach exactly one year ago, he vowed to instill a speedy, high-scoring style without encouraging the Penguins to trade chances. He kept his word and received the Stanley Cup as a reward.
To see the Penguins engage in end-to-end, unpredictable action this season bothered Sullivan, even as his team remained a frontrunner in the relentless Metropolitan Division. He bemoaned the lack of consistency.
At the one-year mark of his tenure, Sullivan appears to again have the Penguins abiding by his philosophies. Wins are piling up. Outcomes are decisive.
“Our coaching staff has been really pleased with the consistency of play as of late,” Sullivan said. “I think we're getting better and better with every game that we play.
“The message that we continue to preach to them is making sure that we create offense off of our defense and making sure that we don't become that chance-for-chance team, because it's hard to sustain winning when you play that way. I think our players are well aware of that. We're continuing to push them and challenge them to be at their best away from the puck so we can cut the chances against down. And when we do that, it has a funny way of working in our favor offensively as far as the opportunities that we get at the other end of the rink.”