It was the first time in a decade the Pittsburgh Penguins (3-0-2) played an NHL game without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang in the lineup. Not since 2011 have the Penguins missed all three at once, and most expectations for the Penguins offense were low against the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs. However, the Penguins thumped Toronto 7-1 at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday night before a Hockey Night in Canada audience.
Drew O’Connor had two goals, and Marcus Pettersson had three points (1-2-3). He and defense partner Mark Friedman were each a +5. Six Penguins had multiple points.
While Crosby recovers from his September wrist surgery, Kris Letang entered the NHL COVID protocol on Saturday morning. Mark Friedman re-entered the Penguins lineup as the second-pairing defenseman with Pettersson. John Marino moved up one pairing to play with Brian Dumoulin as the Penguins’ top pair d-man.
O’Connor substituted as the Penguins third-line center, as Jeff Carter remains in COVID protocol, too.
It was also the most goals the Penguins have ever scored without the trio in the lineup. Stick tap to Penguins historian and swell guy Bob Grove for the info. The previous high was four goals in October 2011.
Yes. Previous high was 4 on Oct. 18, 2011 @ Wild (4-2).
— Bob Grove (@bobgrove91) October 24, 2021
In the second period, odd-man rushes turned from embarrassing to successful. The Penguins skating and work ethic were never in question as the Penguins made Toronto look flat-footed.
The Penguins busted the game open early in the second period. Two goals in just 15 seconds turned a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 Penguins lead, and the quick strikes made the Penguins lineup a foot taller, or so it seemed.
Almost 90 seconds into the second period, defenseman Mike Matheson (1) zipped around the Toronto defense and stuffed a wraparound behind Toronto goalie Jack Cambell, who didn’t get to the post in time. Bad ‘tending, good skating gave the Penguins another lead.
Just 15 seconds later, the Penguins “third” line centered by O’Connor created a mass of traffic and a turnover at center ice. The Penguins resulting transition ended in the red light when Timothy Liljegren deflected Jason Zucker’s (2) shot-pass to O’Connor, streaking towards the net.
Midway through the period, the Penguins lineup with one figurative arm tied behind its back, then planted one on Toronto’s chin.
After a few botched odd-man rushes, Drew O’Connor (3) scored his second goal of the game when his pass deflected off Jake Muzzin into the net.
Pettersson (1) removed any doubt later in the second period when he zipped a wrister past Campbell on another Penguins three-on-two. That gave the Penguins an insurmountable 5-1 lead.
The Penguins had their chances in the first period, too. However, three odd-man rushes fizzled like a first date with a (insert opposite political party). The Penguins failed to get the puck on net at the end of a three-on-one earlier in the first period. Brock McGinn’s pass was absorbed by the lone defender.
Midway through the first, McGinn overskated the net, and Zach Aston-Reese’s pass floated past the empty spot on the side of the net where McGinn’s blade should have been.
Late in the period, the Penguins struggles with odd-man rushes cost them the lead. Mike Matheson led a two-on-one with Brian Boyle, but Matheson turned the puck over, and Toronto counter-attacked for the tying goal.
The Pittsburgh Penguins scored first. Midway through the first period, defenseman Pettersson’s shot neatly deflected off O’Connor’s (2) pants into the net. It was O’Connor’s second NHL goal.
Toronto’s counter-attack off the Matheson miscue served up a quick offensive push. Jason Spezza (3) scored his third goal in six games when he shoveled a rebound past Penguins netminder Tristan Jarry.
That was the lone bright spot for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Penguins had nine of the first 12 shots, but then Toronto fired 11 straight. The Penguins had just two shots in the final six minutes of the period. After the first two minutes of the second period, the shot clock no longer mattered.
Early in the third period, Penguins winger Dominik Simon, on the backcheck, swiped a puck at center ice. Simon fed the big Brian Boyle on the resulting two-on-one. Boyle (2) beat substitute Toronto goalie Michael Hutchinson.
Two minutes later, Evan Rodrigues (3) scored a power-play goal.
Later in the third, Wayne Simmonds saved face for Toronto (sarcasm), when he fought Boyle.
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry was sharp. He stopped 25 of the first 26 shots he faced. He won his 16th start in his last 21 regular-season games. He’s now 16-1-2 in those 21 starts.
Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell was lit up like the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. He stopped 16 of 21 shots. Poor Michael Hutchinson failed to stop two of the first three shots he faced, and a lopsided game became a chili game.