Leafs stun Penguins in home opener at Consol

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:50 p.m.

Dan Bylsma kind of called it.

Hours before his Penguins dropped their home opener, 5-2, to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bylsma suggested that Wednesday night might prove problematic for his previously high-flying flightless fowl.

It was not a gut feeling for Bylsma, though this loss left everybody in the Penguins' dressing room feeling foul, especially after rousing weekend wins at Philadelphia and New York.

“Maybe our focus coming into the game, we think the Flyers will be a tough game and Toronto won't be,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “We need to treat everyone the same. We can't go off our game plan against anyone.”

That is especially true, Bylsma said, against an opponent that blends speed and skill the way these Maple Leafs can.

These Maple Leafs looked a lot like the Flyers last spring, when the Penguins were enticed into a game of trading chances and for it were bounced from Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in six games.

Given that their two best players are past MVPs and scoring champions, the Penguins should be equipped to trade chances with any opponent, let alone a Toronto franchise that has not played a postseason game since before the 2004-05 lockout.

However, as Bylsma and coaches have stressed to their players since the most recent lockout ended, this 48-game season is all about the Penguins re-establishing a defensive identity that is built on puck possession, quick movement and smart decision-making.

The largest crowd to watch hockey at Consol Energy Center (18,641) witnessed the Penguins — at best Bylsma said — play the Maple Leafs only “50-50” for possession in addition to providing Toronto “too much room and space.”

“And we didn't have the same attention to detail,” he said, referring to hallmarks of the Penguins' weekend wins against the Flyers and Rangers.

Superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scored goals for the first time on the season, but in the final minutes Crosby was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and Malkin received an end-of-match game misconduct.

Bylsma did not have an explanation for Malkin's penalty, and Malkin was not available for comment.

Crosby, who assisted on Malkin's first-period power-play goal that staked the Penguins a lead, lamented the Penguins' making “a few mistakes — the big ones (the Maple Leafs) capitalized on.”

The Penguins are 35-4-1 — 22-2-1 at home — when Crosby and Malkin score a goal in the same game.

The Maple Leafs went 2-1-1 against the Penguins last season, even though nearly 30 points separated the clubs.

Toronto's speed was a problem then, as it was Wednesday.

Several Maple Leafs players said they believed they caught the Penguins off guard, and that was evident in a second period during which Toronto turned a 1-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead.

“I watched these guys on TV the other night, and they were dominant,” Maple Leafs left winger Clarke MacArthur said. “Maybe got in a little quicker on the forecheck. We disrupted a few things.”

That happened despite the Maple Leafs going 0 for 5 on the power play in the second period and just 1 for 8 with the advantage, its only goal coming on a third-period 5-on-3.

The Penguins (2-1-0, 4 points) go on the road Friday at Winnipeg, where the Jets play in front of one of hockey's most frenzied home crowds.

Six of the Penguins' next nine games are on the road.

“We need to find the emotional level that we had against the Flyers and the Rangers,” left winger Matt Cooke said. “We don't have time to have games like this.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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