Lineup changes net big win
PITTSBURGH — Dave Tippett doesn’t have many options in his lineup bag, but he still felt the need to make a change after Monday’s familiar feeling loss in New York. The change may be temporary, but the message sure got through to his team for one night.
Mikkel Boedker roofed a tight shot late in the second period and — surprise — the Coyotes held on to a lead to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center.
The win gave Phoenix a two-game sweep of the Penguins this season. More importantly, it earned the team two points that didn’t seem likely without injured goalie Mike Smith, injured forward Lauri Korpikoski and healthy scratches Mike Ribeiro and Derek Morris.
"We wanted to put as hard-a-working lineup as we could in tonight," Tippett said of the decision to sit Ribeiro and Morris. "It was just a compete level that was very good tonight and it allowed us a chance to win."
Morris was a minus-3 the night before in New York and struggled along with partner Keith Yandle (also a minus-3). Ribeiro was a minus-2 and a non-factor on offense.
Without them — and with backup goalie Thomas Greiss (23 saves) in net — the Coyotes played a simpler game, made better decisions with the puck and took advantage of their red-hot power play, which notched its 10th goal in its last 11 games — against the NHL’s second-ranked penalty killing unit.
They also received consistent help in their own end and 18 blocked shots, including a dandy of a glove save by defenseman Michael Stone, who insists he was a pretty good street-hockey goalie.
"There are going to be breakdowns in a game but we did a good job tonight," said forward David Moss, who opened the scoring midway through the first period. "It seemed like if there was a breakdown there was support and if they got a chance, Greisser made a huge save."
The game wasn’t without hiccups. The Coyotes twice took one-score leads on goals by Moss and Antoine Vermette, but the Penguins rallied each time, the latter with just 4.1 seconds left in the first period when former Coyote Taylor Pyatt scored to even the game at 2-2.
There were times when the Coyotes looked a bit helter skelter in their own end, but the Penguins can do that to teams even without star forward Evegeni Malkin.
"Their skill level is so high," captain Shane Doan said. "They have the best player in the world in (Sidney) Crosby, (Chris) Kunitz is one of the best and (James) Neal is an unbelievable shooter. They’ve got some unbelievable guys up front that can make your life hard."
Instead, the Coyotes made life hard on Pittsburgh, drawing four offensive-zone penalties on the Penguins because they simply outworked them.
How big were Tuesday’s points? Dallas lost at Chicago 4-2, widening the Coyotes’ lead to three points over the Stars and ensuring that Phoenix will return from this road trip in playoff position with just one more game to play Thursday at New Jersey.
There are nine games left in the season so this win made life all the harder on the Stars. But for the Coyotes, the attitude was just as vital as the win on Tuesday.
"We needed to have a response game for what we managed to let slip away last game," Stone said. "That’s kind of where our energy came from."