The Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs provided an electric preview of what could be the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday night. The Maple Leafs’ defense occasionally faltered as did the Penguins’ defensive zone coverage.
Evgeni Malkin had a three-point night to reach 900 career points. Bryan Rust also had three points, and the Penguins shut down the Maple Leafs in the third period to win, 5-3, at PPG Paints Arena.
Only a few minutes into the game, Penguins goalie Matt Murray robbed Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman in front. Hyman had an open-net rebound chance, but Murray dove to his left and lifted his glove high enough to nullify the chance.
“That was a fun one, for sure. I even did the little barrel roll after just for fun,” said Murray. “I just tried to get my glove as close to (Hyman’s) blade as I could to take away his angle. I got a bit lucky on that one.”
Boosted by the remarkable save, the Penguins scored just 22 seconds later. The Penguins transition game with Malkin, Rust, and Carl Hagelin raced into the Maple Leafs end, three-on-two. Rust laid a pretty saucer pass on Hagelin’s tape, in the slot. Hagelin (7) neatly steered it past Maple Leafs goalie Frederick Anderson.
“We were working hard. We were finding each other and reading off each other well,” said Rust. “We put a few pucks in the net.”
Midway through the first period, the Penguins trailed 2-1 until the Malkin-led trio struck again. Rust thew the puck to the net and Malkin (33) lunged forward to poke it past Anderson. The goal tied the game and was Malkin’s 900th career point.
Early in the second period, Penguins rookie Zach Aston-Reese showcased his net-front presence and hands. Anderson stopped Penguins defenseman Ian Cole’s shot from the point, but Aston-Reese was waiting for the rebound. Aston-Reese had enough time to settle the puck, flip it to his backhand and in the open net.
The Penguins fourth line added the team’s fourth goal. Conor Sheary and Ryan Reaves cycled low before Reaves sent the puck to the point. Olli Maatta’s long shot slipped through a screen by Carter Rowney. Anderson never saw the shot, and it held up as the game-winner.
Late in the third period, Rust struck again. The Penguins maintained puck possession over a couple of shifts, and the Maple Leafs scrambled. Malkin tapped a loose puck across the crease, through a couple of Maple Leafs defenders, to Rust (9), who quickly lit the lamp.
The assist also gave Reaves two points in the last two games.
The Penguins allowed the Maple Leafs only eight shots in the third period. Murray stopped 29 of 32 for the Penguins fourth straight win and 11th consecutive home win.
Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz was a late scratch due to illness. Matt Hunwick was reinserted in the lineup. Hunwick played just over 16 minutes.
Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust-Carl Hagelin: A
Malkin is playing on another level. Most teams don’t have adequate second pairing defenders or a good enough second line to contain Malkin. Rust’s and Hagelin’s recent play has elevated that line to the equal of the Hagelin-Malkin-Hornqvist trio.
Rust has allowed the Penguins not to miss Hornqvist as much as expected. The line is lightning fast and tortured the Maple Leafs defense, all night. Disorganization on the Leafs first goal lowered their grade from an A-plus.
Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner will see the Malkin line in his sleep. Hagelin’s forecheck forced Gardiner into a turnover. In the first period, Malkin intercepted Gardiner’s clearing attempt, then bulldozed Gardiner on his way to the net to tie the game.
“We did a good job of getting to pucks, especially in the offensive zone. In the ‘D’ zone, we could have been a bit more aggressive. We created a lot of chances just by winning those battles,” Hagelin told Pittsburgh Hockey Now.
Brian Dumoulin: C
Letang didn’t wander too far because of the of the Maple Leafs’ lethal transition game. Dumoulin, however, struggled with the speed of the opponent. He caved in a couple of times, which allowed the Maple Leafs a couple of good offensive chances. He also wandered high on Tyler Bozak‘s goal.
Dumoulin’s Corsi For ratio was a perfectly even 50 percent.
Matt Hunwick-Olli Maatta: C-minus
Hunwick did most of what was asked of him, Saturday night but a few glaring gaffes dropped his grade. Hunwick didn’t puck-chase on Connor Brown‘s goal, but he didn’t defend, either. Nor did Hunwick get to the cage when Maatta did defend the puck carrier.
Hunwick had a depressing 42 percent Corsi.
Maatta was not up to his usual standards, either. Maatta crashed the zone on several occasions but failed to create offensive pressure, which left his team and his partner (Hunwick) exposed.
Maple Leafs fans will likely let Gardiner know he helped the Penguins as much as the Leafs
Riley Sheahan: C
When the games are fast, Sheahan is difficult to find. Overall, he posted a respectable 55 percent Corsi For, but that may largely be attributable to Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel creating chances.
Side note, after a couple instances of straight-legged backchecking early, Guentzel rebounded to play a solid game.