Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 3-2 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday at Consol Energy Center:
Strong starts had Pens digging out of holes.
In the second night of back-to-back games, the Leafs jumped out to an early lead when captain Dion Phaneuf scored his third of the year 3:51 into the first period. And while the Penguins tied it less than two minutes later after Sidney Crosby’s brilliant setup of teammate Chris Kunitz for a power play marker, the Buds began the second frame strongly and made it 2-1 for the visitors on Jake Gardiner’s third of the season. Toronto has struggled at times to come out of the gate with purpose, and given that they no doubt had some feeling of fatigue coming off Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders, their focus to begin periods and quickly gain an advantage was a positive.
Jonathan Bernier’s coming around.
Bernier was one of several Leafs who didn’t have his best game of the season Tuesday, but after counterpart James Reimer was unable to play against the Pens, Bernier stepped up and battled hard all night long, frustrating former teammate Phil Kessel with a number of astonishing saves throughout the game and turning aside all but two of Pittsburgh’s 41 shots through regulation and overtime. In stopping 19 of 20 Penguins shots in the middle frame, Bernier registered his best period of the year – and after he stopped Crosby and Kris Letang in the shootout to claim his fourth victory in the 2015-16 campaign, Bernier looked as confident as he has this season.
Sidney Crosby? Yeah, that guy is still pretty solid.
The Pens superstar hasn’t produced on offence this season to the degree to which fans and media are accustomed, but he was outstanding Wednesday, adding his eighth goal of the season to his first period assist to register his eighth multi-point game of the year. The 28-year-old now has 22 goals and 51 points in 34 career games against Toronto.
Too many man advantages is akin to playing with fire.
The Leafs gave Pittsburgh five power plays in their home arena, and although the Pens’ man advantage hasn’t been much of one at all for them this season, it’s never a good idea to give Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kessel too many opportunities with the puck. Bernier’s stellar play bailed them out in this game, but if they surrender that many power plays to a team with a better special teams unit in that department – say, the St. Louis Blues, who they take on at Air Canada Centre Saturday – the Buds may not be so fortunate.
The Captain set the tone.
Phaneuf and his defensive partner Gardiner had a productive night on the scoresheet, but Toronto’s captain was just as much, if not more of a force thanks to his ferocious physical play against Crosby & Co. He was tied for the team lead in shots and hits and was a serious thorn in Pittsburgh’s collective side in just under 23 minutes of ice time Wednesday, and – as noted here before – he’s thriving under head coach Mike Babcock.