The Pittsburgh Penguins came into Toronto tonight with one thing on their minds…..play desperate. It was a rallying cry put in motion by Coach Therrien’s criticism of the team after Wednesday’s loss to Montreal in which he complained of a lack of desperation. And although the team had a shaky defensive performance through 2 periods tonight, there was certainly no lack of desperation in the Pens play, as they outshot Toronto 52-27 and beat the Leafs by a score of 6-4.
The Penguins got on the board early in the first period on a 43-foot even strength wrister by Erik Christensen at 5:09. Adam Hall picked up the lone assist. The advantage was quickly erased, however, as the Leafs Darcy Tucker struck back a minute and a half later on a 12-foot snapshot that went past Penguins netminder Dany Sabourin. The Penguins defense and goaltending situation looked helpless again at 8:39, when the Leafs struck with a 9-foot snapshot by Nikolai Antropov, from Blake and Steen that beat Sabourin. At 15:07, Dany Sabourin was bowled over by a Leafs player and left the game with an unspecified injury. He was replaced in net by Marc-Andre Fleury. At the end of the first period, the Penguins trailed 2-1, despite outshooting the Leafs 19-6. Each team had two unsuccessful chances on the powerplay.
In the second period, it looked like things were only going to get worse as the Leafs’ Mats Sundin scored at 00:55 on an even strength snapper from 18-feet out that stymied Fleury. And then it happened. Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby, who had been struggling to find the back of the net, finally got lucky goal number one on a pass to Petr Sykora during a hard drive to the net that deflected in off the skate of a Leafs player. The goal, coming at 6:31 and assisted by Petr Sykora and Sergei Gonchar, was the inspiration that the young Penguins needed. Just 19 second later, Maxime Talbot pushed one by the Leafs tender to tie it up at 3. Gary Roberts and Adam Hall assisteed on the goal, Hall’s second assist of the night. At 16:00 of the second, the Penguins took the lead on an even-strength goal by Ryan Malone, from Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin. But the lead was short-lived as Toronto’s Jason Blake fired one past Fleury just 27 seconds later to send it into the thirs period tied at 4. The Penguins outshot the Leafs 17-15 in the second. Sidney Crosby traded roughing penalties with Nikolai Antropov late in the second in a heated face-washing session that almost became a fighting major. Both teams were scoreless on the powerplay, with the Penguins getting 2 chances and the Leafs getting 1 opportunity.
Going into the third tied at four apiece and the Defense largely ineffective for both teams, it was truly anyone’s game. But the defensive corps for the Penguins finally tightened up and allowed only 6 shots on goal, while the Penguins managed to fire off another 16. The next goal came off the stick of Sidney Crosby (#2 on the night) at 14:38, a power play marker that he punched into the goal from behind the netminder after a hard shot by Darryl Sydor. The assists were credited to Darryl Sydor and Mark Recchi. But the one goal advantage looked tenuous as the Penguins Colby Armstrong took an ill-timed tripping call at the Pens blueline at 18:28, giving the Leafs the opportunity to pull their goalie for a two-man advantage. Fortunately, Maxime Talbot was able to take advantage of the empty net chance, and threw the puck the length of the ice for the short-handed insurance marker at 19:10. The game ended with a final score of 6-4, Penguins over the Leafs.
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The Penguins should feel good about their impressive offensive performance, putting 52 shots on goals and 6 pucks in the net. Sidney Crosby put two in the net, including the game winner, and was selected the game’s #1 star. Maxime Talbot picked up two goals, including a short-handed, empty net insurance goal. Adam Hall picked up two assists and Jordan Staal got his first point of the season on an assist and nearly scored multiple times making his presence well known. Evgeni Malkin, the game’s #3 star, added an assist and played like a man obsessed with the puck. The Penguins also did well on the face-off tonight, winning a season high 57%.
The Penguins should also feel good about Marc-Andre Fleury who played arguably his strongest game of the young season, despite coming in as the backup tonight. The two goals he let in were not softies, and he had some particularly good saves at key moments of the game to enable the win. The backup tender situation remains an area to watch, as Dany Sabourin had a bad start in net tonight and the extent of his injury that took him from the game is unknown, although I doubt it is anything of lasting significance. Sabourin gave up 2 goals on the first 6-shots before being taken out of net. Hopefully it was just an off night.
The Penguins Defense still needs improvement, and was nearly non-existent through the first two frames. Were it not for an equal absence of defense on the Leafs end of the ice, the results of this game would have been much different. The Defensive corps also lost Brooks Orpik tonight after he took a fist to the face as he put a big hit on a Leaf player on the sideboards. Orpik was down on the ice for a few minutes and although they rolled the stretcher for him, he was eventually assisted to his feet and helped off the ice in an obvious haze. It would not surprise me if he suffered a concussion from the blow, but no further word on his condition was immediately available. For the Penguins to excel this season, they need to address the depth and play of their defensemen.
With the win, the Penguins climb to 0.500 (2-2-0), and will have a few days off to work on the areas of their game that still needs attention. The Penguins host the next game against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday, Oct 17th. Join us here at NHLPens.com for live in-game chat, scoreboard and optional audio feeds when the puck drops at 7:30PM. Until then, Go Pens Go!