Pittsburgh Penguins (16-14-3 SU, 12-21 PL, 18-14-1 O/U) vs. Arizona Coyotes (7-22-5 SU, 15-19 PL, 14-19-1 O/U)
NHL: Saturday, December 16, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. EST
The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost three straight games–all in regulation–as they prepare to visit the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on Saturday night. Pittsburgh is coming off consecutive setbacks against Toronto, Colorado, and Vegas. Predictably, the Coyotes have been even worse. They are 0-4-1 in their last five and 1-6-2 in their last nine.
Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan isn’t shy about showing some fire behind the bench, but the he has remained remarkably cool with the reigning Stanley Cup champions having dropped three in a row and four of their last five. Sullivan hopes that a calmer approach will steady the waters for the Pittsburgh as it visits the struggling Coyotes for this one.
“I think every team in the league goes through ups and downs, and we’re no different,” Sullivan said. “We just have to make sure that we do everything we can to minimize the skid we’re in right now. We need a good effort, a resilient attitude in (Saturday’s) game and control what we can to get the result that we’re looking for.”
Pittsburgh dropped its second straight 2-1 decision on Thursday as it was foiled by former Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury and expansion Vegas to begin this three-game road trip. Sidney Crosby and company may not be getting results during this 1-4-0 stretch, but the captain insists his team isn’t hanging its head after playing five consecutive games that were decided by one goal.
“Nobody likes to lose, but I don’t think we’re rattled,” Crosby commented. “It’s a tough point when you’re generating chances and in close games and you’re finding ways to let them slip. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes it goes the other way.”
Drastic change of scenery
After recently facing Fleury, Pittsburgh will encounter another familiar face in Arizona head coach Rick Tocchet. Tocchet served as Sullivan’s right-hand man during the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. Not a lot of winning is going on in the desert, however, as the Coyotes have managed a total of five goals during their five-game losing streak (0-4-1). Tocchet took issue with what he saw in Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay, as the Lightning lowered the boom on his overwhelmed team to the tune of 46 shots on goaltender Antti Raanta. If there was any good news, rookie Clayton Keller scored his team-leading 12th goal on Thursday–marking his first in 18 games.
“I hate soft plays. I hate soft players. And we were soft,” Tocchet admitted.
Arizona center Tobias Rieder scored in the first meeting against Pittsburgh this season, but he has been held off the scoresheet in eight of his last nine games. The Coyotes recently called up 2015 first-round pick Nick Merkley, who will make his NHL debut at forward on Saturday.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are:
- 1-6 ATS in their last seven overall
- 1-5 ATS in their last six non-conference games
- 5-2 in their last seven games against Arizona
The Arizona Coyotes are:
- 14-38 in their last 52 overall
- 3-11 in their last 14 home games
- 3-13 in their last 16 games against teams with losing records
Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel saw their respective six-game and five-game point streaks come to a halt on Thursday, but both scored a goal and set up two others in a 3-1 win over Arizona on Nov. 7. Goalie Matt Murray, who made 24 saves in the first encounter against the Coyotes, matched that total Thursday in his return from a five-game absence due to a lower-body injury. Pittsburgh is 56-27 in its last 83 against losing opponents, 28-12 in their last 40 on the road against opponents with home winning percentages under .400, and 5-2 in the last seven meetings between the two teams. The Coyotes are 14-38 in their last 52 overall, 3-11 in their last 14 at home, 3-13 in their last 16 against losing opponents, 32-65 in their last 97 against the Eastern Conference, and 15-36 in their last 51 against the Metropolitan Division. Don’t be surprised if those trends continue.