TORONTO — And this is why the Pittsburgh Penguins (13-13-3) can’t have nice things.
A season of exasperating and self-inflicted failures reached a low point. Following a pair of wins and some good fortune in the last two games, the Penguins thoroughly embarrassed themselves in front of a Canadian national TV audience on Hockey Night in Canada. By early in the second period, the Toronto Maple Leafs (16-6-6) were firmly toying with the Penguins and the finale was more predictable than a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.
In the game which coach Mike Sullivan admitted that current Penguins president of hockey operations/GM, and former Maple Leafs GM, Kyle Dubas had circled on the calendar, the Penguins failed to show up.
The Toronto crowd derisively chanted “Dubas” in the third period.
Mistakes in the first period hit the Penguins like former Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi’s right hands. More mistakes in the second period finished the knockout.
Two minutes into the game, Toronto rookie Matthew Knies turned Penguins defenseman Ryan Graves inside out at the Penguins’ blue line. Knies (7) had a clear path to goalie Tristan Jarry and beat him with a backhander.
In the middle of the period, Toronto created its good fortune. Max Domi (Tie’s son) caught Jeff Carter from behind, stole the puck at the red line, and launched the Toronto counterattack, which ended with a Mitchell Marner (13) breakaway goal and a 2-0 Toronto lead.
To salt the period and claim a commanding 3-0 lead, Toronto scored again in the final 95 seconds of the first period. Radim Zohorna lost the puck in front of the Penguins net. Bobby McMann (1) was uncovered and scored his first NHL goal on a rebound from the low slot.
The Penguins and Leafs each had 11 shots in the opening 20, but the Penguins didn’t come close to the quality of chances they afforded to the home team.
The second period began in a blender and quickly progressed to the fryer. Before long, the Penguins were burnt.
Coach Mike Sullivan shuffled all four lines and his defensive pairs, but before the period was a few minutes old, he also yanked goalie Tristan Jarry.
Sullivan moved Valtteri Puustinen to the top line with Sidney Crosby. Sullivan slid Drew O’Connor to the second line with Evgeni Malkin, Carter to the third line, and Radim Zohorna to the fourth line.
Graves was dumped to the third pairing while John Ludvig took his place with Kris Letang.
However, the changes further exacerbated the Penguins’ spiral.
Toronto ripped three more goals in the first 14 minutes of the second period. Both Letang and Puustinen converged on Knies in the offensive zone, leaving Max Domi (2) uncovered toward the net. Domi beat Jarry, and Sullivan pulled Jarry for Alex Nedeljkovic.
Odd-man rushes and even more Toronto pressure immediately followed. They didn’t let up. No, Toronto was having a grand time at the Penguins’ expense.
Less than two minutes after the fourth goal, John Tavares (9) finished the rebound from a quick faceoff play for a power play goal.
And for fun, the Penguins left Noah Gregor (5) uncovered in the slot later in the second period, and he ripped a shot past Nedeljkovic. The Penguins trailed 6-0.
In front of a Canadian national TV audience with Hockey Night in Canada, the Pittsburgh Penguins were thoroughly embarrassed and outclassed.
Jarry stopped 10 of 14 shots before Sullivan invoked the mercy rule. Nedeljkovic stopped nine of 11 shots in the second period, including a couple of reflex saves, not that it mattered.
Toronto’s Martin Jones was rarely tested on the Penguins’ 38 shots.
The Penguins’ lone highlight was Ludvig landing a few hard left hands to Knies’s chin in a first-period fight.
William Nylander (15) scored in the third period to join the fun.
The Penguins took 33 minutes in penalties, including five to Ludvig for fighting, Kris Letang’s 10-minute misconduct following a two-minute holding penalty, and Malkin’s four-minute high-sticking double minor in the third.