PITTSBURGH — Tristan Jarry spoiled Phil Kessel’s return to Pittsburgh, turning aside all 33 shots to post his second consecutive shutout as the Penguins edged the Arizona Coyotes 2-0 Friday night.
Kessel helped Pittsburgh to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017 before being traded to the Coyotes in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk last summer. He received a rousing ovation during the first period and played 21 inspired minutes but couldn’t solve Jarry.
Neither could the rest of the Coyotes. Jarry won for the fifth time in his last six starts and is making a serious case to supplant Matt Murray as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender. Jarry’s best stop came on a point-blank save on Clayton Keller late in the third period with the Penguins on the penalty kill trying to protect a one-goal lead. Keller was in perfect position just outside the right post and had an open net to shoot at before Jarry’s glove got just enough to send the puck sailing over the crossbar.
Evgeni Malkin broke a scoreless tie 7:13 into the third period to put the Penguins in front. Brandon Tanev chipped in an empty netter with two seconds remaining as the Penguins won their fifth straight meeting with the Coyotes. Antti Raanta finished with 24 saves but couldn’t quite match Jarry, who stole the show during Kessel’s highly anticipated return.
Kessel had 110 goals and 193 assists in four highly productive seasons with the Penguins. His lethal shot and underrated passing played a vital role in Pittsburgh’s resurgence, and his rumpled persona off the ice made the sometimes mercurial Kessel a fan favourite.
The marriage, however, ended in June when the Penguins sent him to Arizona following a decidedly blah 2018-19 in which Kessel’s often inattentive defence drew the ire of coach Mike Sullivan. The move reunited Kessel with former Penguins assistant Rich Tocchet, who developed a reputation as a “Phil Whisperer” for the bond the two developed before Tocchet left to take the head coaching job with the Coyotes.
Kessel’s arrival sent a message that Arizona was serious about ending a seven-year playoff drought. The Coyotes are off to their best start in nearly 30 years and Kessel appears to be regaining his scoring touch. He found the net twice in a win over Philadelphia on Thursday and was all over the ice while playing in his 803rd consecutive game just 24 hours later, perhaps energized by a long standing ovation during a video tribute the Penguins put together to mark his return.
Jarry, making his sixth start in Pittsburgh’s last seven games over a struggling Murray, kept Kessel at bay. Raanta might have been even better. The Penguins’ best chance came during a nearly two-minute two-man advantage in the second period. They came up empty when Raanta somehow got his paddle on a rebound by Rust from just outside the crease.
Raanta, however, wasn’t quite so lucky in the third period. The Penguins won a draw in the Arizona zone, and Jake Guentzel fired off a snapshot that deflected off a skate to the end boards, where it then ricocheted off Raanta’s right skate right to Malkin. Malkin steered it between Raanta’s legs for his seventh of the season.
Arizona scratched Fs Michael Chaput and Barrett Hayton and D Aaron Ness. Pittsburgh scratched F Joseph Blandisi and D Juuso Riikola. … The Coyotes went 0 for 5 on the power play. The Penguins were 0 for 2. … Rust skated 20:21 after missing three games with a lower-body injury. … Pittsburgh D Justin Schultz played 18:03 after returning from a seven-game absence due to injury.
Coyotes: Finish up their four-game road trip on Sunday in Chicago.
Penguins: Visit Detroit on Saturday to face the Red Wings.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Will Graves, The Associated Press