Sidney Crosby said it best. Without Evgeni Malkin, who was a last-second scratch due to illness, the Pittsburgh Penguins handed the Toronto Maple Leafs a simple, blue-collar effort. The Penguins outworked soft Toronto, and even their head coach conceded he didn’t have much to say after the Penguins thumped the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena.
Toronto trailed 5-0 before they lit the lamp, and by then, the game was over.
“I think our mindset with ‘Geno’ going out became pretty hardworking,” Crosby said.
The first period, and more specifically, the first five minutes set the tone for most of the hockey game. The Penguins didn’t race from the locker room on a sugar high only to recede as the game progressed. Instead, the Penguins methodically and tenaciously attacked the puck. Wherever the blue and white touched the puck, there was a Penguins player there, too.
Rookie Anthony Angello, 23, who was the last second insertion into the lineup after Evgeni Malkin fell ill, scored his first NHL goal. The tally exemplified the Penguins even strength domination.
“I said to (Angello) on the bench right after the national anthem, sometimes when you get the call out the bullpen like you did, you play your best game,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said as he began to smile. “And then, sure enough, he goes out scores a goal.”
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The fourth line with players who all began the season in the AHL simply forechecked the puck away from Toronto. Sam Lafferty plucked it off the wall then got it back for a shot in the slot as the Toronto defenders scrambled for position. Angello staked his real estate in front of the crease and deflected Lafferty’s shot.
Of course, the Penguins special teams were special, too. The power play scored three goals in three attempts. Of course, Sidney Crosby was dealing like Kenny Rogers on a lonely train, but the Penguins movement away from the puck and ability to win loose pucks kept the possession arrow in their favor, too.
Toronto simply couldn’t match that aspect. In addition to Crosby’s four points, Rust had three points (1g, 2a).
“I fired all the bullets I had. From there, the team has to make the decision, especially with the way that the second period went. Hearing from me at that point, I don’t think they’d be taking in much,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe conceded.
Pittsburgh Penguins Tactical Analysis:
The tactical analysis is quite simple. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan didn’t need to play chess with Keefe, who admitted defeat by the end of the second period.
The Penguins simplified their style, which was perfectly reminiscent of their first-half march when they steamrolled opponents. The Penguins chipped pucks behind Toronto and then forechecked the soft Toronto defense. The success allowed the Penguins to be more aggressive with additional forward on the forecheck. Defensemen were able to plant their heels on the red line, too.
The Penguins speedy forecheck titled the ice and took territory. The Penguins overwhelming pressure created turnovers in the defensive zone and the neutral zone.
Toronto was in trouble by the middle of the first period.
The aggressive puck pressure put Toronto on their heels, and it wasn’t long before the Penguins had access to the offensive blue line for controlled zone entries, too.
The Pittsburgh Penguins earned power plays because Toronto was chasing the game. There were several more interference calls that didn’t get a whistle, including Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin pulling Bryan Rust across the blue line to thwart the Penguins rush.
It didn’t matter.
The Penguins got their nose over the puck.
Pittsburgh Penguins Report Card:
Sidney Crosby: A+
How many plusses should we add? Crosby controlled the game like a puppet master. His passes were sharp. His skating was purposeful. It was vintage Crosby.
Brandon Tanev: A+
“Turbo” was also in top form. He barged through Toronto defensemen to get to loose pucks. He took pucks away from Toronto defenders and forwards.
On the PK, Tanev neutralized one of the most talented crews in the league by pressuring the top of the zone.
Teddy Blueger: A
Blueger earns his high marks as much for his work on the PK as he did at 5v5. Statistically, the Penguins were not the better team, but the numbers didn’t just lie on Tuesday night. They told a whopper. Blueger with Tanev and Patric Hornqvist did their part to soften up Toronto’s defense and gain territorial control.
And Blueger’s PK work at the top of the zone, especially on the 5v3, was flawless. Of course, he followed that PK by being the trailer and burying the slick pass from Bryan Rust.
“I think Teddy has established himself as just a real solid NHL player,” Sullivan said.
Jack Johnson: A-
Johnson gets docked the points for the A because of the Kyle Clifford goal, which banked of their legs as they tangled. Johnson was on his toes on Tuesday night. He transitioned ahead of Toronto, who looked to Crosby as Johnson whizzed past and into the offensive zone.
Johnson was a monster on the Penguins 5v3 PK, too. Johnson was trapped on the ice for the entire 1:19 but didn’t drop or take a breath. He worked the walls against Toronto and won.
He was solid. He looked just a bit shaky in the first few minutes, but he was solid. He made the saves he needed to make and stuffed a couple of Grade A chances when the game was still in doubt.
Sneaky good performances:
Chad Ruhwedel, Sam Lafferty, Jared McCann for defending John Tavares, and Bryan Rust was all over the puck, too.
Sheldon Keefe with some real talk tonight: pic.twitter.com/r9IfyUsLAN
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) February 19, 2020