PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins, like most of their playoff-chasing brethren, opted against making a splashy move at the trade deadline. The way general manager Jim Rutherford figured it, his team has the parts necessary after a couple months of tinkering.
One of the things Rutherford and coach Mike Sullivan haven’t messed with is the top line. Considering the way Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz are playing at the moment, that’s probably wise.
Hornqvist beat Arizona goalie Louis Domingue three times for his first career hat trick and the Penguins made quick work of the Coyotes 6-0 on Monday night. Kunitz added a goal and an assist, and Crosby had three assists as Pittsburgh began a busy week by sending the Coyotes to their sixth straight loss.
“I’ve been struggling to get that third goal,” said Hornqvist, who came in with 18 two-goal games. “I think I have almost 20 games with two goals. It’s nice to get the third one.”
He broke through – and sent hundreds of stuffed Penguins given away as a promotion raining onto the ice – when his power-play goal 11:06 into the second pushed Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-0. Hornqvist called the scene of the team’s ice crew shovelling the Penguins into trash cans “pretty funny.”
The reeling Coyotes would disagree after dropping their sixth straight overall and eighth in a row on the road. Arizona sent forward Mikkel Boedker to Colorado earlier on Monday, and losing their third-leading scorer seemed to leave the Coyotes deflated.
“It’s really difficult,” forward Shane Doan said. “It doesn’t really matter. We were horrendous.”
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 30 shots for his fifth shutout of the season and the 43rd of his career. The Penguins have won three of four to hold onto the eighth and final post-season spot in the Eastern Conference at the start of a stretch in which they’ll play five times in seven days.
“This is how we have to play to be that playoff-type team that will be tough to play against,” Sullivan said.
The victory provided a giddy end to a relatively quiet day. Pittsburgh’s only significant move before the 3 p.m. trade deadline consisted of sending Russian rookie forward Sergei Plotnikov to the Coyotes in the morning, ending the 25-year-old’s forgettable tenure with the Penguins.
Following a slow start he asked the team in December if he could return to the KHL in Russia. The Penguins declined, citing a roster freeze, and the request did not sit well with Sullivan, who made the power forward a healthy scratch for his final 20 games with Pittsburgh.
It made for an interesting day for Plotnikov, who made his way to the visitors’ locker room after the deal went through Monday morning and suited up for the Coyotes a few hours later. He skated on the fourth line and finished with one shot on goal in 12:10 of ice time while also picking up a minor penalty for tripping former teammate Ian Cole.
Rutherford cited earlier deals that brought in defenceman Trevor Daley and forward Carl Hagelin as one of the main reasons Pittsburgh stayed put at the deadline. He believes his team is significantly better than it was in mid-December when it was languishing in the bottom third of the East.
The Penguins certainly played like it against the listless Coyotes, producing a handful of quality scoring chances in the opening minutes. Hornqvist cashed in 5:42 into the game by poking in his own rebound past a sprawled Domingue.
Arizona’s best chance to make things competitive ended when the Coyotes couldn’t convert during a 5-on-3 power play in the middle of the first and Hornqvist doubled Pittsburgh’s lead late in the period, deflecting a little flip from Kunitz that knuckled past Domingue’s glove.
Kunitz made it 3-0 just before the midway point, redirecting Letang’s shot from the point, and when Hornqvist completed the hat trick less than 2 minutes later the rout was on.
“Glad to see (the top line) got rewarded tonight for their efforts,” Sullivan said. “I think they’ve played hard here the last week or so. It hasn’t necessarily translated on the scoresheet but tonight it did for them.”
NOTES: The Penguins travel to Eastern Conference-leading Washington on Tuesday night, a makeup game after their scheduled Jan. 24 meeting was postponed following a major snowstorm. … Pittsburgh scratched goalie Jeff Zatkoff and made rookie Matt Murray the primary backup. The team will carry three goalies for the foreseeable future. … Penguins D Justin Schultz, picked up in a trade with Edmonton last weekend, is expected to join Pittsburgh in the middle of the week. … Pittsburgh and Arizona made a minor deal later in the day, with the Penguins sending prospect Matia Marcantuoni to the Coyotes for forwards Dustin Jeffrey, Dan O’Donoghue and defenceman James Melindy. … Phoenix returns home to host Anaheim on Thursday.