Maple Leafs send Penguins to 3rd straight loss
TORONTO — Sidney Crosby is capable of a lot.
The Penguins are asking a whole lot of him.
That was evident in a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
The Penguins have lost three in a row. Crosby, the NHL scoring leader with 18 points, has failed to produce a point in two of those defeats, and the Penguins have scored just once in those contests.
“It's tough,” center Evgeni Malkin said. “We have to stay aggressive, play hard (and) physical.
“But we need to score.”
A three-goal third period by the Maple Leafs — sparked by center Nazem Kadri's power-play marker — did in the Penguins (7-4-0, 14 points).
All of the Penguins' losses have occurred in games in which Crosby has failed to record multiple points.
The Penguins have scored 35 goals. Crosby has played a part in 51.4 percent of the offense.
Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer turned aside 37 shots Saturday night, including three from Crosby, who played almost 24 minutes.
He has played at least 22 minutes in eight consecutive games.
“With the injuries we've had, (we're) forced … to lean on (Crosby) in a lot of different areas,” coach Dan Bylsma said, also noting Malkin's boosted workload of at least 22 minutes in three prior contests.
Goaltending is not a problem area for the Penguins, who were seventh in overall goals-against average (2.38) before this loss.
Marc-Andre Fleury is off to a career-best start.
The Maple Leafs were only the third team to tag him for more than two goals, and Fleury has surrendered only 17 in nine starts.
Still, injuries to a couple of skilled right wingers — James Neal (upper body) and Beau Bennett (lower body) — have altered the Penguins' other lines.
Malkin played with his fourth right winger of the season Saturday night. Matt D'Agostini, who had not played previously because of a lower-body injury, replaced Chuck Kobasew to the right of Malkin.
D'Agostini and Kobasew combined for 24 goals the past two seasons. Neal produced 21 goals in 40 games last season.
Bennett scored only three goals as a rookie last season, but he is projected to contribute more as a playmaker — and coaches believed he could serve as the primary weapon on a third line in his second NHL campaign.
The Penguins' third line against Toronto consisted of Brandon Sutter centering Kobasew and left winger Tanner Glass. Sutter is without a goal, and Kobasew has not scored in nine games.
“It's frustrating, especially because it feels like we are getting chances,” Sutter said.
After registering multiple shots in three of four games, Sutter finished with one against Toronto. He, Glass and Kobasew combined for four attempted shots, two on net.
The injuries to Neal and Bennett also have derailed a promising start by the fourth line, which had included Glass and Craig Adams as the wingers for center Joe Vitale.
Glass has played up the last couple of weeks, and the Maple Leafs were the fourth opponent over the past five games against whom the Penguins dressed Deryk Engelland — a defenseman — as a fourth-line winger.
Even the return of Kris Letang — the only defenseman to average a point per game last season — has not helped the Penguins much.
Letang scored his first goal Saturday night, finishing after a behind-the-cage feed from Malkin, to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the first period. That power-play goal snapped a 1-for-20 run by the Penguins.
However, the first surrendered short-handed goal — one of two markers scored by Toronto center Dave Bolland — erased that lead.
Tied after two, the third period provided a stage for Crosby to shine in front of a “Hockey Night in Canada” television audience.
He proved human.
“We have to help,” Malkin said.