By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will look to start a quick two-game road trip off with a win tonight when they play the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center. The puck drops at 5 p.m. (Arizona time).
Phoenix (33-23-9) will enter the game in first place in the Pacific Division standings but tied with second-place Dallas in points with 75.
The Coyotes did not lose a game in regulation (11-0-1) during February but already are 0-2-0 in March after back-to-back home losses to Calgary and Columbus.
"We were all rah-rah when we were winning but when you're winning there's still areas to fix, and when you're losing there's areas to fix," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "And right now, some of the critical mistakes we're making are just coming back to bite us. Those are areas we're going to have to clean up… If we come and play like we can and play a committed game like we know we have to, I think we'll go on the road and give ourselves a chance to win."
Mike Smith will start in goal for the Coyotes. Smith, whom the NHL chose as its No. 1 Star for February, has posted a 3-5-0 record, a 2.51 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage against the Penguins in his NHL career.
Ray Whitney scored his 20th goal of the season in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Columbus to give Phoenix three 20-goal scorers for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Radim Vrbata is leading the way with 30 while, like Whitney, captain Shane Doan has 20.
Photo by Getty Images.
Pittsburgh (38-21-5) will enter the game riding a five-game winning streak – the longest active streak in the NHL - and their 81 points are the second-most in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins last played Saturday at Colorado and won 5-1. Eleven players notched at least one point in that game for Pittsburgh, which has gone 9-1-0 in its past 10 home games. During this home stretch, the Penguins have averaged 4.0 goals per game while outscoring their opponents, 40-24.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury ranks second in the NHL with 34 wins. Against the Coyotes, Fleury is 2-1-0 with a 2.25 GAA and a .911 save percentage.
The Penguins are thriving on special teams; their power-play unit ranks fifth in the NHL at 20.2 percent and their penalty-killing unit ranks second in the League at 88.9 percent.
Coyotes left wing Ray Whitney has scored a goal in four of the past five games, and leads the team with 47 points in 43 career games against the Penguins.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin has notched six goals and five assists in the past seven games, and co-leads the NHL with 80 points - 38 goals and 42 assists.
Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett played one season for the Penguins in 1992-93. He notched six goals and 19 assists in 74 regular-season games and one goal and four assists in 12 playoff games that season.
Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival was selected by the Penguins with the 105th overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette was selected by the Penguins with the 121st overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Tonight's game will be broadcast on FOX Sports Arizona and on XTRA Sports 910 AM at 5 p.m. For in-game updates via Twitter, follow @coyotesgameday.