PITTSBURGH – The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins’ first bad game of the season was more than that. It was Coyote ugly.
Petr Prucha was knocked off his skates in front of the net but still pushed the puck into the net while down on a Penguins player’s back in the second period, and the Phoenix Coyotes took advantage of nine power plays to beat Pittsburgh 3-0 on Wednesday night.
Ilya Bryzgalov made 24 saves, only a handful of them difficult, as the Penguins played a flat, error-filled and uninspired game before leaving on a difficult five-game road trip that begins Thursday in Philadelphia.
“We weren’t able to get a whole lot going. There’s no real excuse for it, we weren’t good at all, but we’ve got to move on,” captain Sidney Crosby said.
Ed Jovanovski also scored on a power play for Phoenix, which is 2-0 with one game remaining on a season-opening road trip that began with a 6-3 victory at Los Angeles. Last season, the Coyotes managed only 30 points on the road, the fewest in the Western Conference, and won successive games away from home twice.
“Facing the defending Stanley Cup champions, it was a big challenge for us and I think we played well,” Bryzgalov said. “It’s a good turning point for us. The team has confidence right now.”
Pittsburgh tried but failed to start a season 3-0 for the first time since 1995, giving little support to Brent Johnson. He made 22 saves in his first start for the Stanley Cup champions, and hardly could be blamed for one of the Penguins’ worst efforts under coach Dan Bylsma.
“I don’t think our guys went into the game with a lackadaisical effort,” Bylsma said. “I don’t think they weren’t focused on playing. When you don’t execute, you’re not paying attention to details, and your brain’s not focused on what’s coming at you and making the right play.”
The Penguins were constantly a step behind the play, drawing unnecessary penalties while allowing Phoenix to grab the early momentum and never give it up. Pittsburgh drew the first three penalties, and Jovanovski took advantage of Evgeni Malkin’s double-minor high-sticking penalty to beat Johnson with a hard wrist shot from the right circle off Shane Doan’s cross-ice pass at 9:07 of the first.
“We had a lot of penalties in first period, and some guys weren’t able to get out there and get into it,” Crosby said. “As a whole, we didn’t play well no matter what they did, whether they were aggressive or tried to close things up. It still comes down to what we do, and we didn’t do a whole lot.”
Bryzgalov didn’t have to make his first tough save until stopping Ruslan Fedotenko’s shot off a rebound in the final minute of the second period. Seconds before that, Malkin was open at the side of the net but fumbled the puck and couldn’t get a shot off.
Not much was expected this season from the Coyotes, who are in financial limbo with the franchise’s future unsettled. Dave Tippett replaced Wayne Gretzky as coach late in training camp, yet the Coyotes have outscored their first two opponents 9-3.
“I thought our speed and competitiveness drew some of the penalties,” Tippett said. “We really fed off the energy of playing against the Stanley Cup champions.”
Earlier in the second, Prucha improvised to score an odd but important goal. Skating toward the net, Prucha collided with Mark Eaton and was knocked off his skates, but, landing on Eaton’s back in front of the net, controlled Radim Vrbata’s rebound and steered the puck past Johnson at 10:47. Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik was off for hooking.
“I was just waiting for a rebound or a tap-in in front of the net and I fell down,” Prucha said. “Vrby tried to score from the goal line and I just took the rebound while I was sitting on the ice.”
About four minutes later, Alex Goligoski appeared to score from the high slot for Pittsburgh, but teammate Matt Cooke had been called for interference a moment before and the goal was waved off.
Vrbata scored into an empty net with 54 seconds remaining – his third goal and fourth point in two games.
Notes: Phoenix was 2-for-9 on the power play. The Penguins were 0-for-5. … Several Penguins players, including Marc-Andre Fleury and the injured Max Talbot, handed out free pizzas to students waiting in line to buy discount tickets. … The Coyotes also beat the Penguins last season.