The Pittsburgh Penguins played their best game of the season and most complete game in recent memory as they froze the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs 3-0 at the Scotiabank Center in Toronto.
Nearly 12 minutes int the first period, Evgeni Malkin (2) scored a power-play goal just six seconds after Toronto was called for a too-many-men penalty. Malkin’s marker was a tight angle shot from the goal line which zipped through Toronto goalie Frederick Andersen’s five-hole. It was the first and last contested goal of the game between two offensive heavyweights.
The Penguins added a pair of empty-net goals in the final three minutes, as Toronto pulled Anderson at the 17:00 mark, despite trailing by only one.
Malkin (3) chipped the puck through a mass of bodies at center ice for the first empty net goal. Malkin could have netted a hat trick but set up defenseman Kris Letang’s fourth goal of the season.
“We played physical. We played smart. I think we deserved to win,” said Malkin.
Not that each team didn’t have chances or shots. They combined for 50 shots after two periods and the action didn’t slow in the third, either.
However, the game featured more tight checking than it did offensive flair. The Penguins cycled hard down low, maintained puck pressure and generally stayed just ahead of Toronto.
When the Penguins weren’t ahead of Toronto, goaltender Matt Murray was. Murray made his first start since he suffered a concussion during or soon after Oct. 6. Murray stopped all 38 shots. It was his first shutout since Oct. 7, 2017, against Nashville.
The Penguins goaltender was also active on his angles and aggressive to shooters. Look for the Pittsburgh Hockey Now Report Card following shortly.
“(He was) terrific. That’s the type of performance we’ve grown accustomed to,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “He was locked in. Saw the puck. Fought through traffic.”
The Penguins shuffled the lines several times throughout the game and settled on a dynamic bottom line with Matt Cullen at center, Riley Sheahan on the left wing and Patric Hornqvist on the right side.
The coaches moved Daniel Sprong to the third line with Derick Brassard in the first two periods, but head coach Mike Sullivan shortened his bench in the third period. Sprong played just 23 seconds in the final period, and Dominik Simon did not play at all. Overall, Sprong had one shot on goal in just eight minutes ice time.
Cullen tied for the second most shots of all players with five. Malkin, Carl Hagelin, and defenseman Jack Johnson also had five shots. Letang led all players with six, including the empty net goal. Cullen also played over 15 minutes, a season high.
The Penguins outshot Toronto 39038 and outhit Toronto, 30-21. Johnson, Hagelin and Penguins defender Jamie Oleksiak each had four hits. Most notable the Penguins blocked 22 shots, Toronto only blocked seven.
The Penguins have a rare weekend off. They will be in Edmonton, Tuesday. PHN’s Shelly Anderson detailed the Penguins road trip and bonding activities including a two-day stop in Banff, here.