Coyotes struggle to answer on offense in 4-1 loss vs. Penguins

The Arizona Coyotes couldn’t get another big goal to help out its defense and it ended up costing the game.

Returning home after losing four-straight on the road could have turned the tide around for the Coyotes, but instead offensive struggles haunted the team against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 4-1 loss at Mullett Arena.

“We created a lot of good offense,” Coyotes head coach Andre Tourigny said. “It was one of those nights where you had your A game and you played a really good opponent and both sides played well and with a lot of urgency. We just could not find a way to score a big goal.”

The Coyotes held a lead after Barrett Hayton scored the opening goal in the first period, but Jake Guentzel struck twice in the second period for the Penguins and the Coyotes couldn’t find an answer.

Forward Dylan Guenther rejoined the team after spending the last month with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. Guenther played right wing on the second line with Lawson Crouse and Nick Bjugstad.

Michael Carcone was sent down to the Tucson Roadrunners as the Coyotes went with 11 forwards. Goaltender Ivan Prosvetov was called up as the backup with Connor Ingram unavailable due to an illness.

Jan 8, 2023; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Coyotes center 	Barrett Hayton battles for the puck with Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby at Mullett Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone-Arizona Republic
Jan 8, 2023; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Coyotes center Barrett Hayton battles for the puck with Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby at Mullett Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone-Arizona Republic

Great connections

Hayton’s time centering the top line paid dividends five minutes into the game. Hayton, who patrolled the fourth line this season, clicked well with Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz and tipped in Keller’s shot right at the net for the early lead. The line generated 10 shots on goal in the game.

“(Hayton) gives you his best every night and he’s reliable defensively,” Tourigny said. “He’s guy that wants to be as good offensively as defensively and wins big draws. He can protect the puck and win puck battles offensively. He goes the net and he has net presence. He earned his spot there and I’m happy for him.”

Killing the time

The Coyotes generated more chances than the Penguins for most of the game, but it was hard for the Coyotes to sustain that pressure when playing on the penalty kill six times in the game. The second period had a rough finish when the Coyotes surrendered a 5-on-3 chance for the Penguins with just 32 seconds left. The Penguins didn’t score on the power play, but it took a toll on the Coyotes offense.

“We defended really well and we played against a team that is tough to play against," Tourigny said. "Defensively, they put a lot of pucks through the slot and to the net and we won a lot of it in the front battle. We defended on our penalty kill really solidly. We just could not score."

Taking care of the net

Karel Vejmelka came into the game with hopes of returning to form after surrendering a combined 16 goals in three starts.

The Coyotes defense gave him breathing room in the game with the Coyotes controlling edge in shots for the first two periods. But even with the defense turning away chances from the Penguins, Vejmelka still had to go up against elite scorers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby showed will and skill at 6:20 in the first period when he launched on a breakaway heavily defended by Jakob Chychrun and eventually put to rest by Vejmelka.

Vejmelka ran into trouble with right winger Guentzel in the second period when he found his sweet spot on the low stick side and beat out Vejmelka twice for a 2-1 lead. He didn’t have much of a chance in the third period to stop a highlight reel worthy goal from Jason Zucker off a backhander on a sharp angle. He finished with three goals allowed on 27 shots.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Coyotes struggle to answer on offense in 4-1 loss vs. Penguins