Not only did Michalek and defense partner Oliver Ekman-Larsson keep Crosby and his linemates off the scoresheet, the former Penguin also snapped his own 83-game goalless drought. Michalek scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the second period and the Coyotes beat the Penguins 3-1 before an overflow crowd of 17,362.
"I almost forgot what it feels like. It's been almost two years," said Michalek, whose last goal was on March 12, 2012, for Pittsburgh; ironically, it came in a win against the Coyotes. "It definitely felt good. Hopefully I don't have to wait as long for the next goal.
Michalek, who left Phoenix for Pittsburgh as a free agent in 2010, was traded back to Phoenix during the 2012 NHL Draft. In addition to the goal, he was credited with four of Phoenix's 20 blocked shots, including one blast from Crosby in the first period that he took in the shoulder.
"This one feels good for me … even sweeter," Michalek said of the goal and the victory. "Any time you play against your former team you want to show up. You want to win that game. For me this one feels great and I'll enjoy it tonight."
Mike Ribeiro scored his 200th career goal and added an assist as the Coyotes (26-19-10) rebounded from a 3-2 loss Thursday to the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres, to beat the beasts of the East. Radim Vrbata scored an insurance goal in the third.
The win pulled Phoenix (26-20-10) within one point of the idle Vancouver Canucks for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Coyotes also have a game in hand.
Coming back from a two-game benching, Phoenix goalie Mike Smith made 23 saves, with several of his best coming early in the first period. He also made two big saves on Brandon Sutter during a power play midway through the third period to preserve the Coyotes' two-goal lead.
"It was a win that everyone had a big part in and it was nice to get back in there and play well and gain some confidence," Smith said. "It's frustrating not playing, but (backup goalie Thomas Greiss) deserved to play and I needed to work on some things. Hopefully we can keep pushing forward now."
Evgeni Malkin had the only goal for the Penguins (38-15-2), who lost in regulation for the third time in the past 13 games. Pittsburgh came into the game 11-3-1 against the Western Conference, but never led Saturday.
"I thought we had some good chances. Smith made a few good saves and we didn't capitalize on others." Crosby said. "They play a pretty tight game and if you don't cash in on your chances … they shut it down pretty well there in the third. We didn't make it tough enough against them in the third."
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves but was denied his 30th win of the season.
"[Smith] made probably four really good saves, but I don't think we tested him nearly enough with our shot. We passed up opportunities," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "It was a hard-fought game. There wasn't a lot out there. That's the game we've got to be able to play."
The Coyotes continued their recent run of strong first periods, outshooting the Penguins 12-6 and taking the lead five seconds after a holding penalty to Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen expired.
Niskanen was back on the ice but not back into the play when Ribeiro took David Schlemko's pass and fired through a screen by Antoine Vermette. His shot deflected off the stick of Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin and sailed past Fleury at 12:42. Vermette got the second assist, extending his points streak to seven games.
The Penguins, who are 28-2-1 when scoring the first goal, played from behind all night. They didn't get a shot on goal after Smith robbed Brian Gibbons with a diving glove save right at the right post with 10:17 left in the period. Neither Crosby nor Malkin registered a shot in the period.
Michalek made it 2-0 at 10:50 of the second period. With Mikkel Boedker screening Fleury and several bodies also in his path, Michalek put a low, hard shot under Fleury.
"You're happy for a guy like Z, beating your old team is always special," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "That pair (Michalek and Ekman-Larsson) was excellent, and Ollie was all-world out there. That's an unbelievable game by him."
As frustrated as Tippett was after losing to Buffalo, he was just as encouraged after his team shut down Pittsburgh.
"I felt like tonight was as close to a 60-minute effort as we've put in," he said. "You look at the Buffalo game, the first period we were all right, the third period we were all right but the second period we were really poor. You can't play parts of games and expect to win, especially against a good team like this. You play part of the game you're not going to win."
Pittsburgh then turned up the offensive pressure. Smith made strong saves on Jussi Jokinen, Niskanen and Crosby before the Penguins broke through. James Neal found Malkin to the right of the goal with a pretty pass. Smith made it to the post, but Malkin squeezed his wrist shot through Smith's pads at 15:51 for his 16th goal and fourth in the past six games.
The Coyotes came out strong in the third period and regained their two-goal lead at 4:13. Martin Hanzal picked off a Gibbons pass in the neutral zone and sent Vrbata in on 2-on-1 with Shane Doan. Vrbata used Doan as a decoy before ripping a wrist shot past Fleury for his 13th goal of the season and second in the last 18 games.