PITTSBURGH – Every season, the Pittsburgh Penguins seem to add another excellent rookie or two. First, it was Marc-Andre Fleury, then Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.
Apparently, the young talent isn’t done arriving. Kris Letang scored the go-ahead goal off Crosby’s pass midway through the third period and the Penguins beat the Phoenix Coyotes 3-1 Monday night, their fourth victory in five games.
The Penguins got goals from rookies Letang and Tyler Kennedy in the final nine minutes after Phoenix’s Shane Doan had tied it early in the third. The Coyotes didn’t get any more scoring as they finished up a winless four-game road trip to Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh that followed a four-game winning streak.
Letang’s third career goal and his first since Oct. 14, 2006, before the Penguins returned him to his junior team, came with a man advantage after Pittsburgh couldn’t convert on its first seven power-play chances.
After Phoenix was called for too many men on the ice, Malkin fed the puck from behind the net to Crosby in the right circle. Crosby faked a shot before throwing a pass across the slot to Letang, whose one-timer beat goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
Letang didn’t have a goal in seven previous games this season and had missed several other good chances set up by Crosby on the power play.
“He’s smart and he got in the right spot, it took him a couple to get it but it was a big one for us,” Crosby said. “The power play was struggling a bit there, so to get a chance like that late in the game and come through was big.”
Letang was on the power play unit because Penguins defenceman Sergei Gonchar missed a third consecutive game with a groin injury.
“The more you play, the more you gain confidence,” said Letang, a third-round pick in 2005 who played in only his 15th career game. “Every time I finish a game, I settle down and say, ‘These things are good, these things are wrong’ and just try to get better every day.”
Kennedy, a fourth round pick in 2004, made it 3-1 about 3½ minutes later with his fourth goal in 13 games, with Staal getting only his fourth assist in 26 games.
The Coyotes were limited to nine shots in the first two periods against Fleury and were outshot 33-18 overall, but tied it at 1 during an extended power play that began late in the second period and carried into the third.
“We took too many penalties tonight,” Bryzgalov said. “It’s hard to get any scoring chances, hard to get going. We were in the box for half the game.”
With Staal serving a double minor for hooking and tripping penalties on the same shift, Steven Reinprecht collected a rebound and fed a backhanded pass to Doan as he cut down the slot. Doan beat Fleury with a wrist shot for his sixth goal.
Fleury was strong otherwise and has turned aside 67 of 69 shots in his last three starts, helping the Penguins even their record at 12-12-2.
“We faced a team with a lot of talent,” Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. “We’re at the end of a trip and took a lot of unnecessary penalties, but the penalty kill worked hard. We didn’t deserve to win this hockey game.”
The Penguins, coming off a 4-2 loss Saturday in Toronto that ended a three-game winning streak, opened a 1-0 lead when Maxime Talbot scored in his first game since missing five games with a sprained ankle.
Just as Keith Ballard’s interference penalty was ending in the final minute of the first period, former Coyotes enforcer Georges Laraque gathered the puck behind the net and made a no-look pass to Talbot at the bottom of the right circle and Talbot converted for his sixth goal. The 245-pound Laraque was traded by Phoenix to Pittsburgh late last season.
“You put it behind the net, he’s going to control it for like 10 or 15 seconds and wait until we’re open and give it back,” Talbot said. “It’s good chemistry. When the fourth line can bring some goals, it’s good relief for the first and second lines.” Notes: The Penguins are playing four games in six days, including three in Western Canada on Wednesday (Edmonton), Thursday (Calgary) and Saturday (Vancouver). Pittsburgh last played in those cities in 2003. … Phoenix hadn’t played in Pittsburgh since winning 4-1 on March 4, 2003, when Doan scored twice. The Coyotes had not lost there since Dec. 11, 1999, though they had played there only twice since. … Pittsburgh has won its last three at home. … Crosby has at least one point in 24 of the Penguins’ 26 games. … The teams don’t play again this season. Pittsburgh won in Phoenix 7-2 last season.