No Rickard Rakell after all tonight, so the Penguins roll with the same lines they’ve had this week.
Lined up and ready for hockey. pic.twitter.com/eeFKFHtQ2E— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 16, 2023
The Maple Leafs are battling a bug and don’t have the services of Auston Matthews or TJ Brodie for this game.
Brutal opener for the Pens, Ryan Graves misses sweeping the stick of Matthew Knies and then is left in the dust. Knies makes a really nice move to fake the forehand and quickly go back to his backhand and lift a picture perfect top shelf shot by Tristan Jarry. 1-0 Toronto at the 1:57 mark.
It only goes downhill from there. Max Domi catches up on the backcheck with Jeff Carter and picks his pocket. Nicholas Robertson passes it right through P.O. Joseph and it leads to Mitch Marner flicking the puck from in tight to the top shelf. 2-0.
The sloppiness continues with a comedy of errors between Radim Zohorna, Kris Letang and Graves in their own end that lets someone named Bobby McMann score his first NHL goal in his 17th game and 31st shot on goal. Cool. Cool. 3-0.
BOBBY’S FIRST NHL GOAL!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/ipCR3DeuqJ— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 17, 2023
Shots in the first were even at 11-11, but defensive zone coverages and lax play burned the visitors in a major way. Sometimes lately the Pens have fallen behind by a few goals and it’s felt undeserved. This time it’s very much been deserved.
The Pens’ miserable night continues. Goalie Martin Jones makes a three-line pass with so much open room I thought he must have caught the Pens in a line change. Nope. Just floating around everywhere. A couple of passes and Domi has plenty of room when Jarry goes down to change the angle and deposit the puck int the back of the net without much resistance whatsoever. 4-0.
“LOOK AT THIS, LOOK AT THAT!” pic.twitter.com/tmKUWffbyc— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 17, 2023
Jarry’s night is over, Alex Nedeljkovic comes in with 17:32 to go in the second.
Letang (sitting at a -4 on the night) watches John Ludvig let a Maple Leaf walk into the net and then on another breakaway Letang holds a Toronto player to take a penalty. The ref tacks on a 10-minute misconduct for the lip after the fact. Toronto makes quick work on the power play and pushes their lead out to 5-0.
Evgeni Malkin brushes the face of Tyler Bertuzzi, who throws back his head like he got hit by a sledgehammer. Luckily, he’s OK. The refs have made that about an automatic call when the head whiplash happens, so even up 5-0, the Leafs get a power play. Pittsburgh almost kills it, but almost isn’t enough. 6-0
As if that wasn’t a bad enough call, the refs send Guentzel to the box for barely even grazing a Leaf. The Pens mercifully find a way to keep the puck out of the net for once tonight.
The game ambles on at about a men’s rec league pace. On a rush Tyler Bertuzzi centers through Erik Karlsson and William Nylander gets one of the easier gifts of his career with Nedeljkovic barely tracking it. Can’t blame him at this point. 7-0.
The patience was Willy Bertiful pic.twitter.com/NIupZiH5fG— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 17, 2023
- Valtteri Puustinen got promoted up to the Crosby line for the start of the second period. Why not at that point, but the bigger note is more that Drew O’Connor shouldn’t be up there with the stars.
- Any hopes Jeff Carter was turning a corner where he could contribute went up in smoke about the time Domi caught him from behind, seamlessly and easily stole the puck in the middle of the ice and sent the puck the other way for a goal. So at least those visions of grandeur can be put away.
- The overall team defense was absolutely brutal and not up to NHL quality. Graves set the tone early on, getting burnt to a crisp by Knies. Between the decision making and effort level, he would be joined by just about everyone else on the team laying an egg, in particular some brutal plays by Joseph, Ludvig, Letang, Zohorna and just about anyone else in a white jersey who even bothered to come close to the puck. Even good ol’ Marcus Pettersson was making pinches that didn’t work and requiring Erik Karlsson to defend 2-on-1’s. Bad times.
- Zohorna was sat the entire second period, the shift on the McMann goal was enough to not have the coach want to see more until mop up time in the third period. Sullivan probably had to wish he could bench about a dozen more players as well.
- Speaking of lightly-used players: half-way through the game, Jonathan Gruden only had played four shifts and 1:10 total. He still managed to be on the ice for two goals against (one ES, one PK).
- The refs missed Ludvig high-sticking Max Domi and Crosby getting a stick up high in the first, so determined to make up for that they just called everything remotely close in the second.
A game to forget, Toronto is a quality opponent but the Penguins can’t afford to have no-show efforts at this point of the season where they’re already behind. Back to home to see Minnesota on Monday.