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Toronto/Pittsburgh Recap: Pens explode past Leafs, take over first place in Metro

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A four point game for Sidney Crosby and Anthony Angello’s first goal highlight Pittsburgh’s big win over Toronto

NHL: FEB 18 Maple Leafs at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Lineups

A couple of changes for the Penguins. First, it’s Tristan Jarry in net as the goalie rotation continues. Knew that. Zach Aston-Reese will be out a bit, he’s out and Dominik Kahun is back from the injury list to replace him. Ok, fine. Evgeni Malkin starts the warmup, leaves early and won’t play.

Wait, what?

Who knows if this means “sick” sick, sick-sick or what. But yoi, not a great development.

First period

Sam Lafferty takes a tripping penalty just 2:19 into the game, and that’s not a good way to start it against the strong Maple Leafs power play. Jarry and the PK do the deed though.

The Pens’ first line has a really good shift against the Auston Matthews line and the game sputters along. Pittsburgh later gets their first power play when Dmytro Timashov takes an offensive zone penalty (gah!). The Pens strike in just 14 seconds with Sidney Crosby lasering a perfect pass to Bryan Rust who has a full net to shoot at, but fairly sharp angle. NBD, Rust simply lifts the puck calmly to the top shelf for his 23rd goal of the season. 1-0 PIT leads.

The Pens keep pushing and score again at even strength from — the even weaker than normal fourth line. Great puck movement by Marcus Pettersson to get the puck to Sam Lafferty who shoots. Anthony Angello, only playing this game because Malkin is hurt, is in front of Frederik Andersen and the puck deflects off him and into the net. 2-0 Pens.

Jake Muzzin clips Dominik Simon with a high-stick but for some reason it takes a five minute review by the refs on iPads to confirm the call. Instead, since Muzzin simply lifted Simon’s stick into his own face, loophole, no penalty. Because that makes sense in NHL logic.

Shots in the first are 13-12 Toronto, living up to their norm of having high-activity shooting events for and against. But it’s the Pens who are up 2-0 on the board.

Second period

The Pens are still buzzing to start the second, Jason Zucker almost sets Simon up for a goal and then Patric Hornqvist gets slashed and unfortuantely for Toronto no iPad review can be dialed up this time.

The Leaf get two rushes the other way, Jarry stands tall and then the first power play strikes again. Rust finds Crosby low with a pass, he goes cross-ice again for his primary assist of the evening setting up Zucker who has plenty of time on some generous defending to fire it into the net past a helpless Andersen. 3-0.

The bad gets worse for Toronto as Jason Spezza takes a penalty (again in the offensive zone!) And the result is a third Pens’ PP goal in three chances. Jared McCann starts the sequence with a hard cross-ice pass to Hornqvist. Hornqvist sauces one over for Crosby who has an easy tap in on a completely open net. 4-0 not even halfway through the game and this one has been broken wide open.

Pittsburgh then returns the favor with an offensive zone penalty when Angello trips a Leaf. Toronto gets 1:19 of a 5v3 when Rust accidentally skies a clearing attempt on his backhand that goes out straight of play.

That’s usually a goal sentence, but some great PK’ing by Brandon Tanev, Sam Lafferty and Jack Johnson (and saves by Jarry) match Toronto’s power play. They kill it off and quickly go the other way, Toronto still out of sorts and Rust steals a puck. He feeds Crosby who circles behind the net. Sid finds Rust in front, but Rust lays it off for Blueger who has a better shooting angle. Blueger lifts the puck into the net. 5-0 Pens and this one is just out of control.

In a developing trend, it’s Rust going to the box on an offensive zone penalty. After a ton of pressure including Matthews hitting the post, William Nylander sends him a pass that he totally hammers by Jarry to get Toronto on the board at least at 5-1.

The Leafs score again with 1:59 left in the period. Spezza gets the puck from a tight angle and fires the puck to the net. Johnson is there is Kyle Clifford and it deflects off Clifford’s skate and past Jarry. 5-2

Shots in the period end up 14-4 TOR thanks mainly to the power play, the Pens scored on three of their four shots on goal with some pinpoint passing and excellent finishing.

Third period

Both teams playing out the string here a bit. Jarry makes a big glove stop on Mitch Marner with about 13 minutes to go as time becomes an ally of the Pens.

And that’s about it. The Pens are content to sit back and clog up the middle and try to just milk it on out and eventually they do.

Some thoughts

Just Penguin things. Malkin being a late scratch meant the 13th forward, Angello, would play instead of being scratched. This is why the extra forward and defenseman take warmup, just in case! And it paid off with Angello scoring his first career NHL goal. That’s the 2019-20 Pens in a nutshell. Some adversity with a key player not being able to play, but they just keep on finding ways to work and have good things happen with who is left.

Relentless. Increased team speed was definitely on full display tonight. Tanev, Zucker, Lafferty, Kahun, Rust, McCann. All very noticeable in hounding Toronto on the forecheck. Most of these players new from the last year. Revamping speed and leaning away from the misguided 2017-19 toughness mantra has gotten the Pens back to more the “just play” 2016 days and the results are showing that.

Power play heating up. Make it five straight games with at least one power play goal for the Pens (and 9 total PP goals in the last eight games). The Toronto PK was really, really bad, but hey — the skill of Crosby, Rust and company to zip the puck around made them look bad.

Coachable moments remain. It’s tough to play a perfect 60, and the Pens weren’t totally clean. Perhaps for the better too, they left some obvious tape for the coaching staff to pick them apart. Kinda the Nick Saban strategy to win 59-14 but still be pissed about what happened for the flaws. A few offensive zone penalties. Lack of coverage on Spezza. Defense in front of the net. Maybe being too selective with shot opportunities. Overall there’s plenty of reason to be happy, but this game won’t leave total satisfaction. Which in mid-February is probably a good thing to have a few points left to correct.

The Pens and Leafs met back up in Toronto in now less than 48 hours. That starts a stretch of three games in four days for Pittsburgh, so the going is only going to get tougher. The Pens push into first place past Washington today, but only by a point. This isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning.