The Pittsburgh Penguins struck early and never looked back in a 2-1 win over the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. In a game that was hyped up as Phil Kessel’s first game against his former team, two quick goals early in the first period would be all Pittsburgh would need. However, Kessel failed to make an impact against his old club and team captain Sidney Crosby was held off the score sheet again.
Penguins Start Quickly
It would be the Penguins getting the early advantage, going on the power play three minutes into the game, but the Leafs killed the penalty. However, Pittsburgh kept up the pressure and Evgeni Malkin scored, sniping the puck past Jonathan Bernier bottom corner while breaking off the right wing. Thirty-nine seconds later, a long shot deflected to Olli Maata, who beat Bernier from long range to give the Pens a 2-0 lead. Leafs coach Mike Babcock called a time-out to try to calm his players, which worked to great effect, as the Leafs came out swinging, swiftly taking control of the game. With just over six minutes to go in the period, the Leafs broke in on a three-on-two, but Nazem Kadri’s pass was deflected by a Penguins defenseman, only to drop onto the stick of Jake Gardiner, who ripped it past Marc-Andre Fleury to close the game to 2-1. In the third goal, the goal was awarded to Leo Komarov, who deemed to have deflected Gardiner’s shot into the net. Toronto actually out-shot Pittsburgh 12-7 in the first period.
Goaltenders Put on a Show
Phil Kessel had a chance to burn his former team early, when Sidney Crosby found his open in the slot. Kessel charged in on goal and tried to deke Bernier, only to be stopped by the goalies right pad. Toronto would turn the tide back against Pittsburgh, limiting to the Penguins to only one shot in the first ten minutes of the second period, but they were unable to find the tying goal. With just under eight minutes to go, Patrick Hornqvist had a chance all alone in front, but Bernier somehow made a dramatic glove save. No goals were scored in the second period.
Pittsburgh Shuts Down the Leafs
The third period was all Penguins. Toronto had very few chances to tie the game in the final frame, with it taking a spectacular effort from Bernier to keep them within one. Toronto’s best chance to tie the game came in the middle of the period while shorthanded, when Nick Spaling, received by Toronto as part of the Kessel trade, and Daniel Winnik, another former Penguin, had chances but couldn’t finish. Kessel had a chance to get on the board with the three minutes to go, but shot right at Bernier’s chest on the break away. A late too many men on the ice penalty would ultimately sink the Leafs.
Both teams were useless on the power play. Toronto was 0-4, while Pittsburgh was 0-5 and is still without a power play goal this season. Ironically, Toronto’s best chances in the game came while Pittsburgh was on the power play, with Marc Arcobello, Winnik, Spaling and Michael Grabner all having the best chances of the game on Pittsburgh power plays.
The game was billed as Phil Kessel’s first battle with the team that traded him this summer after seven seasons. However, Kessel was largely ineffective during the game. He had several chances, but either missed the net or was stopped by Bernier. Kessel only has one goal this season so far. That’s still one point more than teammate Sidney Crosby who, for the first time in his career, has not scored a point in the first five games of the season. Crosby normally dominates against the Maple Leafs, however it seemed as though the Leafs finally figured out how to shut down the Penguins captain, who often found himself cornered and being forced to get rid of the fact. In fact, the Leafs successfully kept the Crosby-Kessel-Kunitz line stuck in their own end for much of the game.
The Leafs outplayed Pittsburgh for the better part of the first and second periods, but their lack of consistent goal scoring showed and they couldn’t take advantage of their good pressure. They find themselves at 1-3-1, 6th in the Atlantic division. The Penguins improve to 2-3, good for 5th in the Metropolitan division.