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Report Card: Penguins Challenge, Frustrate Leafs in 2-0 Win (+)

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Tristan Jarry, Kasperi Kapanen

The Pittsburgh Penguins won the chalkboard battle. The Penguins challenged the Toronto Maple Leafs in all three zones and contested every puck. The resulting gaps were microscopic, and Toronto never settled into a rhythm. Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry showed a Canadian national TV audience that he shouldn’t be overlooked, and the Penguins shut out Toronto 2-0 at Scotiabank Arena.

A Toronto reporter asked Sidney Crosby about Jarry earning a nod to Team Canada for the Beijing Olympics. Crosby demured, but THAT’S what a big performance on HNIC means. All Jarry is missing is a nod from Don Cherry during the (defunct) Coach’s Corner.

Jarry improved to 7-4-3 and raised his save percentage to .926.

The Penguins played in Toronto’s pants for three periods.

“I’d call it Penguins hockey. The guys played hard. We’re at our best when we’re playing a straight-ahead game, a speed game, a puck pursuit game, on our toes and playing in fives,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought for most of the night, we were trying to establish that game. (Toronto) is a really good team…we had our moments when we were on our heels. When we were, we defended really hard…”

The Penguins did their damage in the first period. Before the Toronto Maple Leafs could adjust, the Penguins slipped past the Toronto forecheck for a few crucial rush attempts. They did so with wide breakouts and slipping through seams.

The Penguins were able to get out of the zone with cross-ice movement. The Penguins exploited the gap between the forecheckers and defensemen– often with a cross-ice pass the right-wing at center ice, the Penguins had numbers on the zone entry or plenty of space with a two-on-two entry.

That’s how both Jake Guentzel and Jeff Carter scored first-period goals. Guentzel has goals in four straight games.

“Puck just goes in sometimes like that, and, you know, it finds you in some different ways like that. And I’m just trying to throw pucks and get it on the net,” Guentzel shied away from praise. “And it’s just going in right now. So it’s just the game hockey sometimes.”

However, in the second period, Toronto tightened up, and the Penguins played to a stalemate. The Penguins created a few more turnovers and got their offensive chances strictly off free pucks.

The third period was about the Penguins’ tenacity.

Two things to note: First, the Penguins were brave. They shrunk their gaps to inches, not feet. Even the first breakout pass was under duress, and attempts to skate out of the zone immediately met Penguins defensemen who played with tight gaps all night.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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