JUST FALLING SHORT
In an impressive display of resiliency, the Penguins battled back from three separate deficits to even the score in their game against the Maple Leafs on Saturday. Matt Cooke
’s goal evened the score at 1-1, Chris Kunitz
’s tally made it 2-2 and Evgeni Malkin
’s tied the game at 3-3.
“I thought we did a good job to keep coming back and drawing even a number of times,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Unfortunately, the Penguins couldn’t rally a fourth-straight time after Phil Kessel netted his league-leading 10th goal of the season to put the Leafs ahead 4-3 with 9:52 left in regulation.
The Penguins piled some heavy pressure on their opponent in the final minutes, but an extra period was not in the works despite their best efforts.
“It was tough. To come back three times is a lot to ask,” Penguins forward Craig Adams
said. “To come back a fourth time was too much to ask. We poured it on at the end and had some good chances, but couldn’t get another one past them.”
The loss halted Pittsburgh’s win streak at five games. Only the Washington Capitals posted a longer streak so far this season, winning seven-straight games from Oct. 8-22.
POTENT POWER PLAY
Pittsburgh’s power play found its groove on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre,
The Penguins’ top power-play unit – Chris Kunitz
and James Neal
down low, Steve Sullivan
and Kris Letang
on the points and Evgeni Malkin
acting as the floater – scored two huge goals on four attempts vs. Toronto.
“We’ve had some good momentum on our power play,” Kunitz said.
The compact Kunitz showed why he’s so invaluable as a net-front presence on the power play with his goal, scored with 4:54 left in the second to even the score at 2-2. The play began with Malkin patiently waiting for Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski to bite with a diving block on a shot that never came.
Malkin then fired the puck to the cage and the rebound bounced right to a planted Kunitz, who slammed the puck into the twine.
The second goal came on with seven seconds left on a 5-on-3 opportunity where this time, there would be no rebound on Malkin’s shot.
Letang fed the Penguins center a perfect pass that he absolutely ripped past Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson to tie the game 3-3 with 12:01 left in the third.
“The second (attempt) we put pucks to the net and found a rebound,” explained Kunitz. “Then 5-on-3, we did what we were supposed to – take some one-timers from up top and have a good screen in front. ‘Geno’ put it home.”
The Penguins’ power play now ranks eighth in the league with a 21.4-percent success rate. They've netted at least one power-play tally in eight of their 13 games.
NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT
The Penguins’ penalty kill had been nearly perfect entering Saturday’s game, allowing just one goal on 37 opportunities. It's been a huge reason for the team's early success, with Craig Adams
, Matt Cooke
, Jordan Staal
, Pascal Dupuis
, Zbynek Michalek
and Paul Martin
all logging some big shorthanded minutes.
But despite the excellent work of Pittsburgh’s penalty killers game in and game out, that level of success could not be sustained indefinitely. The Leafs converted both of their power-play opportunites on the night – the first man-advantage goals the Penguins have allowed on the road this season.
“We talked about this the other day – go through a good stretch and sure enough, you’re going to get a couple (scored against you) in a row,” said Craig Adams
, who leads all Penguins forwards with 2:41 shorthanded minutes per game.
“Credit them, they made good plays on both goals. But it certainly caught up with us.”
PLAYING WITHOUT STAAL
The hits just keep coming for the Penguins on the injury front, as center Jordan Staal
did not make the trip to Toronto with the team and did not play against the Leafs.
Bylsma said following the team’s morning skate that Staal is day-to-day with a lower-body injury sustained in a collision with center John Tavares on Thursday vs. the Islanders.
"It's lower body and day-to-day," Bylsma said. "He wasn't going to play in this game, which is why he's not here. ... I don't have that concern at this time (that it will be long term). We’ll see returning to practice on Monday.”
Forwards Sidney Crosby
(concussion) and Tyler Kennedy
(concussion) and defensemen Zbynek Michalek
(broken finger) and Brian Strait
(elbow) also did not play.
KESSEL VS. NEAL
Saturday’s ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ game featured a marquee matchup in Toronto’s Kessel and Pittsburgh’s Neal – the NHL’s top-two goal scorers entering the contest.
Each red-hot player – born just a month apart in 1987 (Neal on Sept. 3, Kessel on Oct. 2) had nine goals apiece prior to the game. Each would go on to register a point, but it would be Kessel who would grab sole possession of the league’s goal scoring lead with his 10th tally of the season.
Neal earned a big assist on Evgeni Malkin
’s third-period power-play goal, but Kessel would score the winning tally just over two minutes later to give Toronto the 4-3 victory.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo