ARIZONA COYOTES

Coyotes’ Nick Schmaltz exits with upper-body injury in loss to Penguins

Oct 13, 2022, 7:46 PM | Updated: 7:52 pm
Nick Schmaltz #8 of the Arizona Coyotes skates to a loose puck during the second period of a game a...
Nick Schmaltz #8 of the Arizona Coyotes skates to a loose puck during the second period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on December 17, 2021 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — This is why Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang stayed in Pittsburgh. And why the Penguins wanted them back, Sidney Crosby most of all.

Yes, they’re well into their 30s. Yes, they have far fewer games in front of them than behind them. Yet when they’re healthy and they’re right, they remain potent playmakers on a team that believes its Stanley Cup window remains wide open.

The proof arrived during a dazzling if familiar sequence late in the second period of Pittsburgh’s 6-2 season-opening victory over Arizona on Thursday night.

Malkin won a faceoff in the Coyotes’ zone and dropped the puck to Letang at the point. Letang then fed Malkin along the goal line. Malkin passed to Crosby, whose shot on net was turned away.

No matter, the puck made its way to Malkin’s stick and he jammed it home, the exclamation point on a night that was both cathartic and a reminder of how much life the Penguins’ longtime core insists they have in their 30-something-year-old legs.

The longtime franchise cornerstones combined for two goals and four assists as they joined former New York Yankee stars Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada as the longest-tenured trio of teammates in major North American professional sports history.

Crosby began his 18th season by scoring his 518th career goal 1:22 into the first period, part of an early three-goal deluge in which the Penguins quickly seized control. Letang also had two assists while Malkin looked dominant at times now well over a year removed from knee surgery that limited his effectiveness at times last spring.

“Geno had Geno’s best game tonight, I thought,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Malkin. “He had the puck all night long.”

Jake Guentzel, Jason Zucker, Bryan Rust and Kasperi Kapanen also scored for Pittsburgh. Tristan Jarry, who was limited to just one appearance during the Penguins’ first-round playoff loss to the New York Rangers last spring, made 26 saves.

Nick Ritchie scored twice for the rebuilding Coyotes. Karel Vejmelka improved as the game wore on to stop 47 shots.

“The start we had, that’s what hurt us,” Arizona coach Andre Tourigny said. “We weren’t mentally engaged enough. We got better during the game, never quit, came back and worked hard. But (we) need to find a way to get out of the gate with more urgency mentally.”

Pittsburgh’s pregame ceremony was cathartic for the sellout crowd following a few tense days in early summer in which Letang and Malkin’s futures with the club were both unclear as free agency loomed. Letang ultimately opted to stick around on a six-year deal and Malkin followed suit shortly thereafter by agreeing to a four-year pact just hours before hitting the open market.

The signings sent a very clear message that new owners Fenway Sports Group — which purchased the club from Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle last fall — believes Pittsburgh remains a legitimate Stanley Cup threat.

It will take months if not years to know whether it was the right move, but the very early returns were promising.

Crosby needed all of 82 seconds to give the Penguins the lead, taking a pretty cross-ice backhand feed from Guentzel then ripping a shot over Vejmelka’s glove. It marked the first time in Crosby’s career he’s scored Pittsburgh’s first goal of the season.

“Took me a while (to do that),” Crosby said. “I don’t know. It’s nice to get a start like that and obviously get a win.”

Zucker, who dealt with various injuries last season, made it 2-0 less than 3 minutes later with by firing a one-timer from just above the right circle. Guentzel pushed the lead to three 5:12 into the first by flipping a shot into an empty net on the power play.

Tourigny believes his team is in a better place than it was a year ago, when the Coyotes finished with the NHL’s worst record. Maybe, but the Coyotes are likely facing another difficult year that includes playing 20 of their first 24 games on the road.

Arizona didn’t win a game during the preseason and looked overmatched for the first 25 minutes or so before Ritchie’s two power-play goals briefly gave the Penguins a scare.

“We fought pretty hard the last two periods,” Ritchie said. “It was definitely better. We obviously have some work to do.”

LOOSE PUCKS

– Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz exited the game in the first period with an upper-body injury. He only played for 2:26.

– Arizona was 2-for-5 on the power play compared to Pittsburgh’s 2 of 6 mark.

– Coyotes rookie F Dylan Guenther, the club’s 2021 first-round pick, was a healthy scratch after making the team as a 19-year-old. Arizona also scratched Ds Patrik Nemeth and Juuso Valimaki.

UP NEXT

The Coyotes continue a season-opening six-game trip against the Boston Bruins on Saturday at 4 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Penguin Air
Head coach Andre Tourigny of the Arizona Coyotes on the bench during the third period of the NHL game against the Minnesota Wild at Gila River Arena on November 10, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Wild defeated the Coyotes 5-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) skates by Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka (70) after scoring during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Pittsburgh Penguins' Bryan Rust (17) and Arizona Coyotes' J.J. Moser reach for control of the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Pittsburgh Penguins' Jake Guentzel (59) celebrates his goal on Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka, left, during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Fans cheer as Sidney Crosby celebrates his goal during the first period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Pittsburgh Penguins' Jeff Petry (26) blocks a shot by Arizona Coyotes' Shayne Gostisbehere (14) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Arizona Coyotes' Zack Kassian (44) checks Pittsburgh Penguins' Brian Dumoulin (8) along the boards during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Arizona Coyotes' Nick Ritchie is congratulated after scoring against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka (70) stops a shot by Pittsburgh Penguins' Jake Guentzel (59) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates with Bryan Rust (17), Kris Letang (58), Sidney Crosby (87) and Jake Guentzel (59) after scoring against the Arizona Coyotes during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) A shot by Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin gets past Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka (70) over Troy Stecher (51) and past Penguins' Jake Guentzel (59) for a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates with Kris Letang (58) and Sidney Crosby (87) after scoring against the Arizona Coyotes during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Arizona Coyotes' Matias Maccelli, right, controls the puck from his knees, next to Pittsburgh Penguins' Rickard Rakell (67) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Pittsburgh Penguins' Bryan Rust (17) shoots and scores through the crease between Jason Zucker (16) and Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka (70) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins won 6-2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka (70), lays in the goal near the puck as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Coyotes scuffle after Penguins' Bryan Rust scored during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins won 6-2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Pittsburgh Penguins' Bryan Rust (17) brings the puck up ice past Arizona Coyotes' Nick Ritchie (12) towards Shayne Gostisbehere (14) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins won 6-2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Arizona Coyotes' Nick Ritchie, left, celebrates with teammates on the bench after scoring his second goal of the game, this one during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins won 6-2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka (70), right, lays in the goal near the puck as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Coyotes scuffle in front of the net after Penguins' Bryan Rust scored during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins won 6-2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

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