NHL: COYOTES 3, PENGUINS 1 -- Pens suffer rare loss to Pacific Division team
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Two nights after losing to the Eastern Conference’s worst team, the Phoenix Coyotes handled the best.
Zbynek Michalek scored against his former team, his first goal in 83 games, and the Coyotes became the first Pacific Division team to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in regulation this season with a 3-1 victory on Saturday night.
Mike Ribeiro had a goal and an assist for Phoenix. Radim Vrbata scored the third goal for the Coyotes, who were coming off perhaps their worst loss of the season, 3-2 at home to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.
“I think we had something to prove,” Michalek said. “We believed in this room that when we play the right way, we can play against any team. I think tonight was a great effort by everybody.”
Evgeni Malkin scored for the Penguins, who entered 8-0-1 against Pacific Division foes.
Michalek’s previous goal was scored on March 5, 2012, for Pittsburgh against Phoenix.
“It’s been almost two years,” he said. “Hopefully I don’t have to wait that long for the next one.”
Michalek acknowledged that he had extra motivation for this one.
“For sure,” he said. “This one feels good, and for me even sweeter. Anytime you play against your former team, you want to show up, you want to win.”
The Penguins, who had won three straight over the Coyotes, made their first appearance in Arizona in 3 1-2 years.
Mike Smith, back in goal after Phoenix had gone with Thomas Greiss the previous two games, made 23 saves. Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 27 shots.
With just 24 shots, the Penguins’ offense was off its usual form.
“Tonight was a tough-fought game. There wasn’t a lot out there,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s the kind of games we expect. We have to be able to play a patient game, not be taking chances with the way we play or the way we play with the puck.”
Playing in front 17,362, the Coyotes’ second-largest home crowd this season, Pittsburgh fell behind 2-0. The Penguins made it a one-goal game before Vrbata’s shot on a 2-on-1 rush slipped through Fleury to make it 3-1 with 15:47 to play.
The Penguins fell to 2-10 in games in which NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby fails to get a point.
“They play good team defense as a group,” Crosby said. “I think we didn’t make it tough enough on them. We didn’t hold the puck in their zone. They’re pretty good at blocking shots and getting their stick on pucks.
“You have to give them credit, but I don’t think we did a good enough job of creating, either. I think we could have done more there.”
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett credited the defense of Oliver Ekman-Larsson against the Crosby line.
“Ollie was all-world there,” Tippett said. “That’s an unbelievable game by him.”
Ekman-Larsson called it “a good challenge for me and Z (Michalek).”
“I think we did a pretty good job all night,” he said. “So it was fun.”
Ribeiro put Phoenix ahead 1-0 with his 14th goal of the season and 200th of his career.
His wrist shot from the left circle got past Fleury’s left side and rattled in with 7:18 to play in the opening period. David Schlemnko and Antoine Vermette had assists.
Vermette extended his career-high point streak to seven games.
Ribeiro’s goal came just after Pittsburgh killed a penalty.
After Pittsburgh’s prolific power play failed to score, Phoenix made it 2-0 on Michalek’s slap shot past Fleury with 9:50 left in the second. Ekman-Larsson and Ribeiro got the assists.
The Penguins made it one-goal game when Malkin scored his 16th of the season, from the right side of the net off a pass from James Neal. Jussi Jokinen also got an assist on the goal.
NOTES: Pittsburgh is 11-4-1 against the Western Conference. ... The Penguins are 10-13-1 when their opponent scores first. ... Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta left the ice after taking a puck to the face in the third period. ... The only other Pacific Division team to beat Pittsburgh was Edmonton 4-3 in OT on Jan. 10. ... The Penguins last played in Arizona in November 2010.