The Pittsburgh Penguins may be in the midst of a two-game skid, but the Phoenix Coyotes will still have their hands full with the star-studded squad. Prior to their past two, the Penguins won 12 in a row before it was snapped by the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Pens are led, of course, by captain Sidney Crosby, whose exploits this season are well-documented. The young star has 54 points in 33 games this season, and is on a career-high 20-game point streak. Fellow star Evgeni Malkin has three goals in his two games since returning from injury.
For Phoenix to stop the high-powered Penguin attack, they'll need strong goaltending from Jason LaBarbera, who is expected to start his third consecutive game. LaBarbera has two of three for the Coyotes on the road trip, both of them in New York against the Rangers and Islanders. Starter Ilya Bryzgalov is still out with the flu and is listed day-to-day.
LaBarbera allowed six goals between the two games on 80 shots, including 44 against the Isles. His performance during the shootout on Saturday helped the Coyotes nab the victory.
Goals will be tough for Phoenix to come by, with the defensive strength of the Penguins, which includes Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang. Letang is Pittsburgh's second-leading scorer with 27 points and leads a defensive unit that's giving up just 28 shots per game, good for third in the league.
Behind the defense is former first overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes for the Pens. After a rough start, Fleury has been back to his puck stopping ways, winning 11 of his last 12 and only allowing more than two goals once in his last 10.
For the Coyotes to sneak out of Pittsburgh with a win, they're going to have to best the Pens on special teams. While their power play ranks higher than Pittsburgh, the Pens boast the league's second best penalty kill. The bigger key for the Yotes will be staying out of the box. Their nine penalties made it tough on them to beat the Islanders on Saturday and has cost them in games past. Pittsburgh will be no exception.
Monday will be a rare occasion for the Coyotes, playing a team from the Eastern Conference for the second time this season. Pittsburgh took the first contest at Jobing.com Arena, 4-3 in a shootout, as part of the Coyotes' early season struggles in the extra time.
Phoenix not only has a chance to get themselves back to .500 on the road trip, but can also prove themselves as legitimate contenders with a win over one of the league's best. Two points would also vault the Yotes back into contention in the West, if the Anaheim Ducks end up on the losing end of a tilt with the Boston Bruins.
With the Coyotes' inability to get up for games against the lower tier teams in the league, compared to their performance against contending teams, Phoenix could be gearing up to play some of the most exciting hockey they've displayed all season.