TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs are intent on playing a more physical style of game this season, but they’re going to need better penalty killing to keep it from backfiring.
Three undisciplined penalties each resulted in power-plays goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night – two of them by Sidney Crosby – as Toronto fell 5-2 to the defending Stanley Cup champions.
There was plenty wrong all-around for the still winless Maple Leafs (0-3-1), but the porous penalty killing was one area that particularly stood out. Crosby’s goals, both set up by Malkin, came in the second period for a 4-1 lead that erased any hopes the hosts might have had of mounting a comeback.
“There are a lot of things we have to do better,” said Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “Clearing pucks is No. 1. … I’ve never done it but we have to somehow practise shooting the puck down the ice, because we just aren’t very good at it.”
Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Sergei Gonchar also scored for the Penguins (4-1-0), who were coming off a grinding 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday as they continue a gruelling stretch of five games in eight days. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 18 shots to remain unbeaten.
“When you win the special teams, it was 3-0 for us tonight, that’s a good recipe,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.
Niklas Hagman and tough guy Jay Rosehill, with the first of his career, replied for the Maple Leafs, who were game with the rough stuff but brought little else to the table.
They’ll need to be better in all areas of the game Monday, when they look to break their goose egg in New York versus the Rangers.
“It is depressing here right now,” said Wilson. “We’ve got to find a way to get some momentum early in the game.”
The heat will also be on Vesa Toskala, who made 28 saves but looked uncomfortable in goal in the first period, and received plenty of mock cheers from a disgruntled crowd of 19,374. With the penalty killing problems, another focal point must be their discipline, as a few key momentum changes were given back by ill-timed penalties.
“A couple of questionable bad penalties, for sure it doesn’t help our PK,” said Hagman. “But we should do a better job on the PK.”
The Penguins led 2-0 and were up 14-2 in shots after 20 minutes, and if not for a pair of fights – Colton Orr handled Eric Godard and Jamal Mayers bloodied Craig Adams – the Maple Leafs would have been totally invisible.
Cooke opened the scoring a minute after the Orr-Godard bout, whipping a wrist shot over Toskala’s glove from the slot at 3:20. Tyler Kennedy set the play up by stripping Jason Blake of the puck in the slot.
The Pens went up 2-0 at 10:23 when Gonchar slid a point shot through Toskala’s legs, capitalizing on a roughing penalty assessed to Orr for jumping Cooke at 8:51.
“Occasionally you need a save,” said Wilson. “I think Vesa would want to take that one back, it was a wrist shot, probably through a screen but you need a save there. At the end of the day, that’s kind of what your penalty killing comes down to once in a while.”
Two seconds after the Gonchar goal Mayers took down Adams.
Rosehill gave the Leafs some life by shovelling in Mayers’ centring pass at 2:01 of the second period, but a silly offensive-zone holding penalty by Matt Stajan 16 seconds later put that momentum on hold.
Fifteen seconds after that, Crosby picked up the rebound off a Malkin shot as it came off the boards and slipped it into an empty net to restore Pittsburgh’s two-goal edge.
“Any of the momentum we had created with Rosehill’s goal went right out the window,” Wilson said.
The Penguins were back on the power play thanks to an unnecessary boarding penalty from Rosehill, and Crosby deflected a Malkin slapshot past Toskala at 14:31 to make it 4-1.
Hagman looked to have given the Maple Leafs a spark 1:01 into the third period when he banged in a rebound past Fleury, but that didn’t last long. Staal ripped a Malkin pass from behind the net into the top corner past Toskala at 2:08, for a 5-2 Penguins lead.
“I wasn’t able to help the team more,” said Toskala, “and I think bottom line it was for the better team today.”
Another bout off the ensuing faceoff between Rosehill and Michael Rupp was like the last gasp by the Maple Leafs, as the Penguins shut them down the rest of the way.
Notes: Dan Bylsma took over as Penguins coach a day after Pittsburgh and Toronto’s last regular-season clash, Feb. 14 at the Air Canada Centre. The Pens allowed five straight goals in the third period of a 6-2 loss that night, leading to the firing of Michel Therrien. … Penguins D Kris Letang was in the lineup after he was allegedly bitten on the right ring finger by Flyers F Scott Hartnell. No discipline was issued on the matter because of inconclusive evidence. … F Viktor Stalberg (concussion), F Wayne Primeau (undisclosed injury) and D Garnet Exelby were scratched for the Maple Leafs. F Chris Bourque and D Martin Skoula were Pittsburgh’s scratches. … Jerseys worn by the Maple Leafs are to be auctioned with the proceeds going to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. … Toronto’s record for fewest shots in a period is zero, recorded April 3, 2000 at Buffalo.