Earlier this afternoon, the following tweet from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Dave Molinari hit cyberspace:
"Jordan Staal is not in Toronto. Won't play tonight."
Luckily I had no throw-able objects within reach. It's simply unfathomable how many injuries the Pittsburgh Penguins have been dealing with in this short season. But clearly, the hockey gods haven't had their share of fun yet. Dan Bylsma announced Staal's injury as day-to-day and that it wasn't serious. Fair enough, but will this team ever see Staal, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby play together again?
Bob Grove also tweeted: "Pens' record on Oct. 29: 1-14-0 with 2 ties. Only win: 5-4 at Montreal in 1988."
All signs were pointing to a rough and long night for the Pens as they faced the Toronto Maple Leafs. But while they were handed their first loss in five games, the game wasn't low on the entertainment spectrum.
A bit of a slow start for the Pens. The Leafs were establishing solid pressure and consistent presence in the Pens' zone and forwards were finding speed up the wing, only to be stymied by good defense that negated the slot and center. Brent Johnson was also making some huge saves early on. It didn't take long for the Pens to run out of luck as Malkin was called off on a hold about halfway through the first. Mikhail Grabovski's sick redirect gave Johnson no chance.
Halfway through the second, the Pens tied it up at one with Matt Cooke crashing the paint and dumping the garbage where it belonged. The tie was short-lived as Malkin was sent back to the box on a hooking call and Tim Connolly put the Leafs up again by one.
So went the theme of the evening.
Things got interesting when the Pens were awarded a one minute five-on-three penalty. Malkin was able to make up for his two penalties and tied the score at three before the end of the first penalty. No dice on the remaining five-on-four, but Pens fans were feeling the go-ahead goal. Of course, Phil Kessel had to spoil the party by stuffing a pretty set up from Connolly.
The Pens were full throttle till the horn sounded and definitely took advantage of the Leafs who seemed to be snoozing. The Pens were everywhere and peppered the Leaf's zone, but they just couldn't make it count. A part of me wanted to pout over this win, but it really was a solid effort. These games are gonna happen. Jonas Gustavsson was everywhere, hats off to him; he earned the win for his team.
Some fun tidbits:
- Steve Sullivan's hip check was a glorious sight (though maybe not as glorious as Bob Errey's and Paul Steigerwald's reaction). For a player at 5'8", that was an impressive hip check.
- Pens allowed two power play goals in one game for the first time in what feels like 500 games. Grabovski's goal was also the Pens' first five-on-four goal allowed this season.
- Stick tap to Nick from the Pens Nation for this fact: all three PP goals scored against the Pens this season are without Jordan Staal on the ice. Huge stat.
- The Leafs have a lot of impressive speed in their lineup. Easily one of the fastest teams in the NHL. I have a feeling the Leafs won't be a punchline this season.
- On that note, the Leafs' oldest players are 30 (John-Michael Liles and Tim Connolly). The Pens have 11 players 30 and older.
- 22 of the Pens' 37 goals have come from the wingers. Remember when we were calling for better wingers for Crosby/Malkin/Staal?
- At this point, it feels like Johnson will have his first goal as a Penguin before Sully. All jokes aside, he's doing everything right but can't buy a goal. Who from last season does this remind you of?
- Mark Letestu would return to play since being bench after the Pens 3-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens. Unfortunately, ghosts were more visible than he was.
The Pens have a nice five-day vacation to ice their bruises and chill out. Well-deserved time off that will definitely help our ailing lineup.
Get well soon, Staal. The Pens will need you when they're dumped in the Shark Tank Thursday.