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Getting back on track: Fleury, Crosby, Gonchar and Malkin come through and help the Pens beat Toronto 4-1

Penguins vs Maple Leafs coverage - Pension Plan Puppets

"Your best players have to be your best players" is something Barry Melrose used to like to say.  And coming off of a stretch where the Penguins had lost six of seven games, their best players;Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar were indeed the best players on the ice tonight in Toronto.

  • Crosby, skating with a purpose for a "Hockey Night in Canada" appearance had the following stat line: 1 goal, 1 assist, 8 shots on goal (2 more missed the net), 2 takeaways, 0 giveaways and a winner of 60% of his 20 faceoffs.  All of this accomplished on "just" 17:41 of work, significantly under his season average.
  • Fleury stood tall in the net, stopping 42 of the 43 shots that made it to him, including seven shots by Toronto sniper Phil Kessel.  For a guy who gave up 4+ goals in five of his last seven starts, MAF was supremely confident and aggressive tonight; at the top of his crease cutting the angles down, using his poke-check and holding onto a lot of rebounds.
  • Malkin, who's been mired in a funk, did well in a 2 primary assist effort.  He also won 50%+ of his faceoffs (a very rare occurrence), attempted 5 shots on goal (3 reaching target), got a hit, 3 takeaways and 0 giveaways.  We're not ready to say he's officially on fire, but he was good tonight.
  • Gonchar returned with a roar in his first game back from a bruised leg that kept him out of the last four matches.  2 goals (including the game winner), an assist, 6 shots on net.  But it wasn't only at the offensive end of the rink where Sarge shined: he was a +3, had 5 blocked shots, 2 hits, 1 takeaway, and no giveaways.  Gonchar didn't miss a beat.
  • It wasn't just the guys with a lot of 0's in their paychecks that did their job.  The team blocked an amazing 34 shots (led by Kris Letang's 8).  Guys like Jordan Staal (4:23 SH ice time), Matt Cooke (4:14), Jay McKee (4:03) and Mark Eaton (3:13) did some great PK work.  Pascal Dupuis was a +3 on the night.  Bill Guerin got another goal.  And so on and so on.  To a man, everyone that got a jersey did their job.

The scoring was opened by Guerin, who converted on a great pass by Crosby for the game's all-important first goal.  Pittsburgh wouldn't take the lead into the first intermission however, because Matt Stajan buried a shot from the slot on the PP to tie things at one.

Then in the second, one of the most bizarre of sequences unfolded.  On a Penguins power-play, Gonchar drilled a point shot that hit something and popped out (it sure didn't look like a goal in real speed).  Play continued and the Maple Leafs' Alexei Ponikarovsky was almost immediately sprung on a breakaway.  Hustling back, Gonchar had to take a penalty to disrupt Ponikarovsky and a penalty shot was awarded.

At the whistle, however, they took a look at Gonchar's initial shot and determined the puck glanced off the post then went into the net, contacting the bar in the back of the goal that caused it to quickly kick out.  The clock was reset to this point (14:44) and Gonchar's goal awarded.  Sarge was also ticketed with a minor penalty for hooking at this same mark.  If Ponikarovsky would have scored on that sequence, it wouldn't have counted; as two goals can not result from the same whistle, and Gonchar's goal should have stopped play right there.

For that reason (no 2 goals from one stoppage), it was explained, the penalty shot was disallowed but the minor penalty still was called.  By letter of the rule it was correctly enforced, but it seems (one way or the other) that both teams kind of got hosed by the way the rules are currently on the books.  Obviously the initial goal has to count, but if you're going to rewind the clock to that point you can't give out a minor penalty -- especially if you're not going to make the correct call and award the deserved penalty shot.  When both teams get the short end of the stick, no one wins.

Back to the game, Toronto couldn't score on their ensuing powerplay, but as soon as Gonchar got out of the box, Malkin found him and he slapped another puck by goalie Jonas Gustavsson.  That swing made things 3-1 Penguins, instead of what could have been 2-1 Leafs (had Gonchar's close call not scored and the PS was converted) which seemed to take a lot of the crowd and the Toronto team for a while.

Finally scoring was capped by Captain Crosby when he led a rush, beat a defenseman and poked a puck by the  goalie they call the Monster.  Toronto wouldn't roll over and die, as they threw 22 shots on goal in the 3rd period, but each one was answered by Fleury.  A couple more thoughts on the game:

  • Defenseman Brooks Orpik's second shift early in the game he caught a hit.  Orpik took another shift but didn't feel right and left the game with an undisclosed injury.  The Pens would be down to 5 dressed defensemen for the second game in a row and would divvy up a lot of the extra time by giving Letang (25:18 played), Alex Goligoski (24:51) and Mark Eaton (21:56) an increased work-load.
  • Malkin on the left point of the PP isn't working.  It's like having a racehorse in the role of a donkey, it's just not looking right.  Toronto has the league's worst PK by far, and though the Penguins went 1 for 3 on the man advantage, one gets the sense it could have been more successful with the players in the best position to play their best.
  • Rookie Luca Caputi only skated 11:35 and didn't record a point for the first time in his three games up, but he's doing a lot of little things right.  He's going to the front of the net (where he got both of his 2 shots on goal) and not turning over the puck.  It's tough to break into a Top 6 NHL role, but Caputi's handling things well.
  • Toronto defenseman Ian White took exception to being hit from behind into the boards by Ruslan Fedotenko and got in his face and dropped gloves.  Say, isn't that a penalty too?  Wasn't tonight.

After being stuck in quite the rut lately, Pittsburgh responded well in the first game of a long road trip.  Playing in a marquee game Saturday night in Toronto in front of the HNiC cameras, they put on a great team-wide effort and got a well-deserved win.  Last year they turned the tide on their whole season by winning all five games of a road swing from February 27th in Chicago to March 8th in Washington.  It remains to be seen if this year's game swing will end up similiarly, but an inspiring effort to get the ball rolling, nonetheless.