Fresh on the heels of last night's loss at home to the Islanders, the Pens were off to Toronto, where they won more games than in any other Canadian city.
Matt D'Agostini made his debut for the Penguins, while Dustin Jeffrey, Jayson Megna and Robert Bortuzzo were scratched. On offense, the Pens had Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis, Jokinen-Malkin-D'Agostini, Glass-Sutter-Kobasew, Adams-Vitale-Engelland. On defense, the pairings were Scuderi-Letang, Orpik-Martin, Maatta-Niskanen, with Marc-Andre Fleury in the cage.
James Reimer was in net for the Leafs for the first time since leaving the October 17 game 20 seconds in with an upper-body injury. Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul were out, but David Clarkson returned following his 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to fight in the preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres. We certainly saw a lot of Clarkson tonight, and not in a good way.
In the first period the Penguins looked good and finally broke through on the power play, with Malkin feeding a beautiful pass from behind the net to Kris Letang, who beat Reimer. But as is often the case with Malkin and Letang, the good comes with the bad. Later on in the period Gunnarsson earned himself a break in the penalty box, and the Pens had another power play opportunity. Letang turned the puck over and just like that Dave Bolland was skating the other way, beating Fleury from the right circle. In the last minute of the period Clarkson hit Rob Scuderi, whose left leg looked to bend under him in a bad way and he left for the dressing room and did not return. He will be evaluated upon returning to Pittsburgh.
In the intermission the Penguins reloaded the weapons and came out firing, outshooting Toronto 16-4 in the second period. James Reimer was up to the task, played in unison with his defense, and didn't let anything through. Vitale and Dupuis had some really good looks in this frame, but it ended with no goals on either side.
In the third period of a tie game, the Penguins treated us to a generous helping of imprecise passes, lazy stick work and undisciplined play. Less than two minutes in, Nazem Kadri beat Fleury on a good passing play. JVR to Kessel to Kadri, not much Flower could do there. My favorite part of the game was the Leafs power play with 4 minutes left. I finally got my often-stated wish to see Malkin get some PK time, and we also had Deryk Engelland on the ice instead of injured Scuderi. In an effort to generate some offense, Malkin turned the puck over, it came back in front of Fleury, who went to his left to try and salvage it, but it went past him to the right where Engelland was asleep and Phil Kessel tapped it in. Dave Bolland scored his second goal of the game on an empty net in the waning seconds of the game.
Crosby was kept in check very well by a team effort on Toronto's part, led by Phaneuf. He didn't help himsef in the faceoff circle, winning at 40% rate. Still, even though he was kept off the score sheet, he kept the Leafs busy. D'Agostini had a good game, as did Glass, Sutter and Vitale. Fleury was solid and none of the goals he gave up were bad goals.
Now for the bad. Giveaways were the Pens' undoing in this game, and Kris Letang carried the banner with 5 and two of those went back in to our net directly. With his return to the ice we saw the great return of the stretch pass, and those are always fun. Malkin and Jokinen had a game they'd like to forget, although they shouldn't be allowed to, especially Geno.
Let's give some credit where it's due. The Leafs played well and did all the little things right. In order to win a hockey game you have to win endless tiny battles for the puck every time you touch it, and they did that. They focused on shutting down Crosby's line and dared others to beat them, and as long as Neal and Bennett are sidelined with injuries there's not much going below 14-87-9.
The Pens announcers kept repeating these two things like parrots: the Pens were tired after playing last night, and they ran into hot goalies in three straight games. I don't know if they honestly think that or they're paid to say these things. First, the Leafs played last night as well, and second, this week the Pens faced Evgeni Nabokov sandwiched between two backup goalies. This is nothing against Giguere and Reimer, who are both very good, but they play in a minority of their teams' games. Reimer hasn't played a game since Oct. 15 (he started on Oct. 17 and left half a minute in), so he was definitely riding a hot streak. In this game, with excellent support from his blue line, Reimer made 37 saves on 38 shots, but all those guys did were their jobs.
Let's not talk about luck (or lack thereof) tonight. There are some more pertinent L-words that came to my mind, and they were lazy, lackadaisical, laissez-faire. The Pens go 0-3 for the week and find themselves at 7-4-0.
Next up is Carolina on Monday. With both Ward and Khudobin injured, the Pens will face the AHL call-up. But maybe these guys only circle games against top competition as those to worry about, so it's a good thing Tuukka Rask is in town Wednesday.