The red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins will shoot for a sixth struggling Phoenix Coyotes in tonight's battle at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins have won five games in a row and have buried the competition over that stretch, outscoring their opponents by a 23-7 margin. All told, Pittsburgh is 17-4-1 over its last 22 contests and that run includes a season- high, eight-game winning streak from Jan. 13-31.
Pittsburgh is seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference and is two points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Penguins earned their latest victory on the road, beating the Colorado Avalanche in a 5-1 rout Saturday at the Pepsi Center. Marc-Andre Fleury made 35 saves to earn the win for Pittsburgh, while Steve Sullivan, Deryk Engelland, Richard Park, Arron Asham and Evgeni Malkin each had a goal.
"We can't leave the scoring all up to 'Geno' (Malkin), 'Staalsy' (Jordan Staal) and 'Nealer' (James Neal). We've got to spread it out," said Asham. "That's how good hockey teams win, and that's how you're going to win in the playoffs."
Malkin has six goals and five assists during a current seven-game point streak. With 80 points on the season, the Russian superstar is tied with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the NHL scoring lead.
Malkin's terrific season continues to offset the absence of captain Sidney Crosby, who is still out indefinitely with his head and neck injuries. No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang also missed Saturday's game with concussion-like symptoms and is expected to sit out tonight. Pittsburgh forward Tyler Kennedy is questionable for this evening after sitting out the last 11 games with a high ankle sprain.
The Penguins are beginning a four-game homestand tonight. Dan Bylsma's club has won three straight and nine of its last 10 as the host and is 20-8-2 in the Steel City this season.
Meanwhile, Phoenix will try to solve its recent troubles and get back on the right track this evening. The Coyotes posted a stellar 11-0-1 mark in February and closed the month on a season-high, six-game winning streak, but Phoenix has come out flat so far in March.
The Coyotes have dropped two in a row by a combined 9-4 margin and were dealt a lopsided 5-2 loss Saturday by the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets, who are last in the NHL with just 47 points. Rick Nash totaled two goals and one assist for the visiting Blue Jackets.
"You gotta do things right, but you gotta put the work in," said head coach Dave Tippett after Saturday's loss. "We were just kind of flowing along with the game, we weren't pursuing the game."
Ray Whitney and Lauri Korpikoski lit the lamp for the Coyotes, who are tied with Dallas for the Pacific Division lead.
Mike Smith took the loss after allowing four goals on 25 shots. Smith, the NHL's First Star for the month of February, had won a franchise-record 11 straight before losing to Calgary and the Blue Jackets last week.
After tonight's test, Phoenix will get a chance for revenge against the Blue Jackets, when it visits Columbus tomorrow night to complete a two-game road trip. The Coyotes are 16-11-5 as the guest this season and went 4-0-1 on the road in February.
Tonight's test is the only scheduled meeting between the Coyotes and Penguins this season. Pittsburgh went 2-0 against Phoenix last year and recorded a 6-1 victory when the teams meet at Consol Energy Center on Dec. 20, 2010. Overall, the Pens have won five of seven in this series and the Coyotes have lost two of their last three tilts in Pittsburgh.