PITTSBURGH – Thomas Greiss stopped 23 shots – including all 15 he faced over the final two periods – and the Phoenix Coyotes edged the sloppy Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 Tuesday night.
David Moss, Antoine Vermette and Mikkel Boedker scored for the Coyotes, who never trailed while picking up two vital points in the chase for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Greiss was sharp and received plenty of help from his defense as Phoenix rebounded a night after losing starting goaltender Mike Smith indefinitely with a right leg injury in a loss to the New York Rangers Monday night.
Jussi Jokinen and Taylor Pyatt scored for Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves, but the Penguins looked lifeless at times without center Evgeni Malkin, who is out 2-3 weeks with a foot injury.
The Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins are 6-6-2 since the end of the Olympic break and will likely be without Malkin until the playoffs start. That’s not exactly good news for a club that hasn’t looked itself over the last month.
If the Coyotes were rattled by the loss of their franchise goaltender, it didn’t exactly show. Greiss has been effective when spelling Smith, though he wasn’t sharp while allowing the Rangers to steal two points on Monday night by rallying for an overtime victory after replacing Smith with 7:32 left in regulation and the Coyotes nursing a one-goal lead.
No matter, despite a short turnaround in the midst of a three-game road trip that could shape the final weeks of the regular season, Greiss and the rest of his teammates looked like the club on the verge of a playoff berth, not the one hoping to sneak in at the wire.
Maybe it was playing for the third time in four days. Maybe it was the absence of Malkin. Whatever it was, the Penguins were sloppy in their own end and frustrated at the others.
Whenever Pittsburgh made a mistake deep in its own zone, the Coyotes were there to take advantage. Moss picked up his seventh goal of the year when great forechecking by Martin Hanzal and Brandon McMillan produced a turnover that ended with Moss all alone in front of the Penguins net.
Jokinen’s 18th goal of the season tied it 11:51 into the period, kind of. His wrist shot caromed out of the back of the net so quickly the goal light never came on. Play continued for nearly 3 minutes before a stoppage in play provided time for the goal to be awarded on replay.
Vermette put Phoenix back in front with a power-play goal, poking a rebound between Fleury’s legs. Pyatt knotted it at 2 with just 4 seconds left in the first by deflecting in Rob Scuderi’s shot from the point.
The back-and-forth play, however, stopped over the final 40 minutes as the Coyotes choked off the Penguins while continuing to effectively counterpunch. Boedker put Phoenix in front to stay 13:18 into the second period by grabbing a rebound in front of the Pittsburgh net and roofing it over Fleury’s glove as a penalty to Jokinen expired.
Notes: Injured Penguins defenseman Paul Martin did not skate o Tuesday morning due to an illness. Martin, who has not played since injuring his hand while playing for Team USA in the Winter Olympics, will have an X-ray Sunday to determine his progress. … The Coyotes recalled G Mark Visentin from the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League to serve as the backup until Smith’s status is determined. … The Penguins host Los Angeles Thursday while Phoenix wraps up its road trip Thursday in New Jersey.