The first quarter of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season is over, and a couple of things have become quite clear.
They can be very good, like when they strung together five consecutive victories — including a rare sweep of their three-game trip through California — earlier this month.
They also can be mind-numbingly bad, as they were during the latter stages of what became a 3-2 loss in Buffalo Friday night.
It seems only fitting, then, that their 3-2 victory over Toronto at PPG Paints Arena Saturday night — a performance that definitely belongs on the positive side of the ledger — allowed them to get through their first 20 games with exactly as many wins (10) as they have defeats.
Of course, the Penguins will have to pick up the pace considerably during what remains of the regular season if they expect to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs, since there’s no way their current 82-point pace would be enough to get them in.
The Penguins played without their top-six right wingers, Bryan Rust and Rikard Rakell, for the third game in a row. Coach Mike Sullivan made one personnel change, scratching Vinnie Hinostroza and plugging Jansen Harkins into his spot on the right side of the No. 3 line.
The game flowed from end to end, especially in the early minutes of the opening period, and Tyler Bertuzzi staked the Maple Leafs to a 1-0 lead by knocking in a John Tavares rebound at 3:59.
Just 28 seconds later, however, Jake Guentzel set up at the right side of the crease, took a feed from Drew O’Connor on the left side and deposited the puck in the net behind Toronto goalie Joseph Woll for his seventh of the season but first in the past six games. The second assist went to Sidney Crosby, swelling his points total for the season to 24.
Matthew Knies put the Leafs back in front at 7:48, rapping a Calle Jarnkrok rebound by Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry, who finished with 34 saves.
Both teams had a power play in the second half of the period. Neither was able to capitalize on it.
The Penguins had two more chances with the extra man early in the second, including a 21-second overlap in the penalties that gave them a 5-on-3, but again failed to score.
The Penguins pulled even again midway through the second, on an outstanding individual effort by Toronto alum Noel Acciari.
He intercepted a pass by Maple Leafs defenseman T.J. Brodie along the boards behind the net, pulled the puck out to the goal line to the left of the net and tossed a high shot past Woll on the short side at 10:01 for his second.
Acciari also figured prominently in the goal that put the Penguins in front as the second intermission was closing in.
With just over a half-minute remaining in the period, Jeff Carter won a faceoff in the right circle, drawing the puck to Kris Letang along the right-wing boards.
Letang slid a pass to Erik Karlsson at the right point, and Karlsson — with the benefit of an Acciari screen — beat Woll with a blast for his sixth of the season and a 3-2 lead.
The Penguins had to kill a boarding minor to Radim Zohorna early in the third, and fended off the Toronto offense during those final 20 minutes to break their two-game losing streak.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will have a scheduled day off Sunday. They are supposed to practice Monday at 11 a.m. at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex before departing for games in Nashville and Tampa.