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Pens/Maple Leafs Recap: Pettersson, O’Connor blow up and lead Pittsburgh to big win

No Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Carter or Rust? No problem when you’ve got Marcus “The Dragon” Pettersson reeling off a three point night

Toronto Maple Leafs v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Pregame

Saturday brought more bad news, with Kris Letang landing in COVID protocol to send an already comically depleted Penguin lineup into even more dire territory.

First period

Despite being a bare bones lineup, it would be the Pens to strike first in this game about 12 minutes in. After controlling most of the shot attempts, Pittsburgh strikes. Marcus Pettersson’s point shot hits Drew O’Connor in the hip and the puck flutters past Jack Campbell. This would be the first of many good things that Pettersson and O’Connor did on the night. 1-0 Pens.

On the very next shift, the Maple Leafs would get as close as they would all night when Jason Spezza cleaned up some trash to make it 1-1 as the bad end of the Mike Matheson experience comes out.

The second half of the period is all Toronto, they tilt the ice and after the Pens’ goal there was pretty much nothing positive going on for the home team. Tristan Jarry did well to keep Pittsburgh in it, shots in the first ended up being 16-10 TOR (after starting 9-3 Pens to really give a sense of the big shift that happened).

Second period

In the second, the Pens broke the game open, and it didn’t take very long to put their stamp on this game. Just 1:38 into the period, the good part of the Mike Matheson experience came through, with Matheson actually scoring a goal on the sweeping forehand wraparound attempt that he seemingly tries once a game and never scores on. Well today was the day! 2-1 Pens.

Just 15 seconds later, the Pens strike again to start pulling away. Danton Heinen gains the zone and dishes off for Jason Zucker, it looks like Zucker is trying to get the puck to the net, potentially for a tip or rebound for O’Connor but the puck just goes right in on Campbell. 3-1 Pens and in just the first 1:53 of the period, Toronto’s left wondering just what the heck happened.

The game settles in for a bit, but it’s O’Connor getting his second goal of the game for sure this time on the rush. O’Connor’s trying to make a centering pass for Mark Friedman, but the puck takes a lucky bounce off the Toronto defender and into the net to make it 4-1. When you’re livin’ right, you’re livin’ right!

Another fairly quick strikes occurs just 2:58 later, Marcus Pettersson jumps up in the play and takes the pass from low-to-high from Evan Rodrigues and just slings it past Campbell. 5-1 Pens.

Just a sensational period for the Pens to score four goals, give up zero. Jarry makes saves on all 10 shots he sees in the middle frame. Pittsburgh scores their four on just 11 SOG.

Third period

The Pens start their fourth line, because hey why not. And they strike just 20 seconds in. Brian Boyle clogs up the neutral zone and Dominik Simon steals the puck off an unsuspecting Leaf player’s stick and goes the other way. Simon lays it off for Boyle who rifles the puck past Michael Hutchinson, the new Leafs goalie after Campbell got the mercy hook. 6-1 Pens.

All gas, no brakes in this one, Michael Bunting takes a goalie interference penalty to send Pittsburgh to a power play and after a little over a minute in, Evan Rodrigues nets his third goal of the season with a wrist shot from the top of the circle. 7-1 Pens.

Boyle and forever Pittsburgh antagonist Wayne Simmonds get into the Pens’ first fight of the season. Nice of the Wayne train to be playing so hard down 7-1, lolol

Mercifully the clock ticks down for the Leafs, who can limp out of town probably only to see Drew O’Connor and Marcus Pettersson and Evan Rodrigues and Danton Heinen in their nightmares tonight.

Some thoughts

  • Yeah, Toronto played last night at home. Not the best schedule for them to have travel and a b-2-b while the Pens waited for them. But Pittsburgh iced a roster that perhaps the Leafs overlooked, and they paid the price. There wasn’t too much fancy, O’Connor’s goals really showcased that. On one, O’Connor simply was in front of the net and had the puck go off his body. On another, he was trying to center the puck and it went in off a defender. On Zucker’s goal O’Connor was moving to the net too.
  • Sometimes you get those bounces, sometimes not, but it all starts by “playing the right way” as Mike Sullivan says to these guys a million times a day.
  • And Sullivan surely deserves a heap of praise for this one. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter count at over $31.5 million to the Pens’ cap. That’s about 38% of the budget unavailable, and as we know, most of the tip-top players who make differences. And the Pens just went to work, plugged along, played the right way, got rewarded.
  • Jarry earns another hat tip too, he really wasn’t the story tonight even though he did have to be busy and certainly did have to hold up his end of the bargain. Jarry did what he needed to and just was very solid. Again.
  • After getting an assist taken away on a scoring change, it was still a three-point night for Pettersson, who like Jarry, is another player off to a really, really solid start after an off-season of fans wondering and sometimes questioning his position on the team. Pettersson isn’t a dynamic player who will pop out a lot, but when he’s on his game almost every decision he makes is right and he is effective. Pettersson is on his game right now.
  • In just 12:25 played, Friedman took a penalty but also was on ice for 5 GF, had an assist and might also have had a goal if O’Connor’s aforementioned pass attempt made it through. Unlike Pettersson, Friedman is a player that as an observer you are going to notice. A lot. For reasons sometimes good and sometimes maybe not so good.
  • O’Connor had just one goal in 13 career NHL games before tonight, two goals tonight. Neither came off his stick as a shot attempt, so kinda an oddity, but hey, still positive. Great to see a young player growing before our eyes, and one of the few positives of all these injuries is it has opened up a door for O’Connor to keep playing NHL games.

Everyone on the team and associated with the Pens has to feel great right now. Deserves to feel great too after a night like this. They were under-staffed but also demonstrated a lot of moxie and character to not only win, but win running away. Great times.

Now we’ll wait to see if Letang’s positive test was potentially a false positive, as well as see Carter’s status moving forward as the Pens’ homestand continues on Tuesday with Calgary coming to town.