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Penguins/Maple Leafs Recap: Malkin roars, DeSmith solid as Pittsburgh defeats Toronto

The Pens make it a modest winning streak by pulling out a 4-2 road victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images


The news is mixed from last game’s injuries, P.O. Joseph is unable to play tonight in Toronto, but Jan Rutta is good enough to go. Chad Ruhwedel is back in the lineup with the recently recalled Mark Friedman scratched as the depth player. Casey DeSmith is back in net for his second straight start.

First period

Good start for the Maple Leafs who also get the game’s first power play when Malkin high-sticks Malgin (say that five times fast). The Pens escape damage by killing the penalty, but not before DeSmith had to make a great save on a hard shot from William Nylander.

Pittsburgh doesn’t get a lot going early and Toronto scores the game first. The Brian Dumoulin struggles continue when he’s beaten to a puck and given a shoulder check by the 5’9, 180 pound Malgin and Zach Aston-Reese finds a loose puck and quickly hacks it five-hole on a shot DeSmith can’t stop. 1-0 Toronto.

Malkin heads back to the box for his second penalty of the game. He gets called for a trip even though the other guy doesn’t fall over, so, yeah, not the best. Probably could have been a hook, but let’s get it right, eh stripes? The Pens’ PK is up to the job and keeps them close.

Malkin atones for his multiple penalties by burying a rebound. Auston Matthews can’t clear the puck and Ruhwedel did a great job to keep the play alive in the zone and fire it back towards the net. The puck kicks out to Geno who has an easy goal with a wide open net. Malkin makes the signal for tripping in his celebration, no doubt peeved about the call after taking his frustrations out by tying the game in the final minute of the first.

All things considered, Pittsburgh is lucky to get out of the first with the game at a tie after not playing that well and putting their struggling PK to the test twice on the road against a talented team. Shots are 10-7 for the Leafs thanks to the power plays, and 7-5 Pens at 5v5.

Second period

There’s some jailbreak hockey to start the second, the Pens somehow give up a 2-on-0 but Mitch Marner can never control the pass up to him, and soon Malkin pokes the puck past Justin Holl and leads a rush of his own. Malkin continues to make things happen with a spinning centering pass for Jason Zucker to unload on and Pittsburgh has their first lead of the game at 2-1 with 18:52 remaining.

The Pens get their first power play of the game but have trouble even getting the puck into the zone by their top group.

Toronto gets another power play when Kris Letang takes down a Leaf and they get plenty of good looks. DeSmith makes a few saves, the iron helps out, but it felt like an endless two minute power play. With just two seconds left in it, a pass over for Nylander is one that he can convert into a 2-2 tie with 2:43 left in the period.

Not the best period for the Pens, but again they have found a way to shrink the game down to the final 20 minutes on the road at a tie. Shots in the second were 17-9 in favor of the Maple Leafs and are 26-16 overall after two periods.

Third period

Pittsburgh’s third line steps up and gives them the lead again with another early period goal. Brock McGinn picks off a Toronto breakout attempt, Danton Heinen does well to get it back to him. McGinn does a great job to use the defender as a screen and snap a shot short-side that Erik Kallgren can’t read very well. 3-2 Pens with 18:06 remaining.

Zucker nearly scores his second goal of the game but his shot pushes just wide of the open net.

After some classic Penguin empty net troubles with Bryan Rust and McGinn missing goalie-less chances, Jake Guentzel scores a goal in his fourth straight game with 12 seconds left to finish it off at a 4-2 final and Pittsburgh win.

Some thoughts

  • Very flat start for the Pens after the billed 7:00 game started near 7:30 after a pre-game Hall of Fame ceremony. Pittsburgh wasn’t getting bodies or pucks deep and just pulling up at the blue line and made it easy for Toronto to dispossess and take the other way.
  • A rare Aston-Reese goal was perhaps to be expected, former players going against their old teams always have a little more juice and motivation (remember that Danton Heinen two-goal game against Boston last year?), but would you believe it’s the first time since Robert Bortuzzo in 2015 an ex-Penguin scored against Pittsburgh in the very first game? Doesn’t feel that way.
  • Malkin has dominated Toronto over the years - he’s up to 67 career points in 41 games, and 19/41 have been multi-point efforts. He’s got to be happy to see the Leafs on the schedule two more times in the coming weeks.
  • The case could be made that Malkin and Zucker are playing the best right now for current form. That was a good thing tonight because the first line was uncommonly quiet (Crosby no shot attempts, Guentzel one shot on goal [until the empty net], Rust no shots on goal). Perfect time to get a contribution for the third line to step up and score the all-important third period goal to break the 2-2 tie.
  • For a team that was blowing a lot of leads and even multi-goal leads this year, the Pens put on a clinic in the last 5-10 minutes. Toronto was pushing hard for the equalizer and able to get in the Pittsburgh end, but they were mostly kept to the perimeter, Pittsburgh was breaking up plays, protecting the house, getting clears and generally managing the lead and doing the things they weren’t doing previously to keep it.
  • DeSmith did an excellent job in this game of keeping the puck out of the net. Toronto had far more zone time and took more shots. Yet they couldn’t solve DeSmith very much. By April when the dust settles on the story of the season, the job that DeSmith has done in the last two games to help break the losing streak might be a bit forgotten in the bigger scope of what happens in the next 67 games. But it probably shouldn’t be. DeSmith battled hard and did what he needed to do to help stabilize the season this week.

Now with two wins in a row in their pocket, the Pens jump over to Montreal for a game tomorrow night. A third road game in four days is a huge challenge, and we’ll see what kind of energy they have left as they push to keep the positive results rolling in.