Empty Thoughts: Penguins 6, Maple Leafs 1
Observations from the Penguins’ 6-1 win against the Maple Leafs.
Approximately 21 hours before Saturday’s game, Mike Sullivan was assessing an unappetizing 2-1 road loss to the Devils in a hallway outside the visiting dressing room.
The Penguins did everything they claim they wanted to in that defeat, aside from win, of course. They played the way they wanted to.
Sullivan was asked if it was tough for his players to keep playing that way if they were having trouble scoring or winnings.
“Because there isn’t another option,” Sullivan said. “That’s why. I also think that we’ve shown plenty of evidence that we do score. There’s been nights we generate a fair amount of goals throughout the course of the season. … It was one of those nights where it was tough to find the back of the net. There has been plenty of evidence throughout the course of this early part of the season that would suggest that when we play this way, we’re hard to play against. We’re cutting down the quantity and quality of scoring chances against significantly. And we’re generating a fair amount. All you can do, and this is what I say to the players, is control the process. And hopefully, if you play the game the right way, and we feel we are right now, then results will fall.”
The results fell into place in a big way on Saturday against the Maple Leafs.
Shuffling their lines a bit due to an undisclosed injury to Nick Bjugstad, the Penguins were aggressive and dangerous throughout this game and bombarded rookie goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo in his NHL debut.
“We played good the last games, we just didn’t get rewarded for it,” forward Dominik Kahun said. “It was important that we get a better start today and we did.”
The Penguins’ took the game’s first lead for once and did it with a power play scire from their first unit (or whatever is left of it). After corralling a clearing attempt at the center point, Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz snapped a pass to the right circle where forward Evgeni Malkin cranked a one-timer which Kaskisuo kicked out. The rebound bounced out to the left circle where Penguins forward Alex Galchenyuk leaned down and swatted it back on net. Kaskisuo fought that off but couldn’t cover the rebound which forward Jake Guentzel was able to clean up with a forehand shot at 6:38 of the first period. Assists went to Galchenyuk and Malkin.
They made it a 2-0 game barely two minutes later at the 8:44 mark. Lugging a puck up ice from his own slot, Penguins forward Bryan Rust gained the center red line and fed a pass to the left wing for forward Jake Guentzel. Gaining the offensive zone, Guentzel held up just for a moment and allowed Malkin to veer off the right wing to the high slot and fed him a pass. Deadening the puck with his right skate, Malkin ripped a wrister from just inside the left circle past Kaskisuo’s glove hand. Guentzel and Rust netted assists.
It became a 3-0 contest only 52 seconds into the second period. Fending off Maple Leafs defenseman Tyson Barrie, Kahun fed a pass from the right corner to the right point for rookie defenseman John Marino. Hesitating for a moment, Marino fed it back to Kahun, now on the right half wall. Moving over the right circle, Kahun lifted a wrister past a screen by Rust and Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin to the far side. The puck clunked off the far post and into the cage past Kaskisuo’s blocker. Marino and Rust collected assists.
Kahun got his second goal at 4:32 of the second but not without some confusion. Off a stretch pass by defenseman Jack Johnson, forward Brandon Tanev gained the offensive zone with a balletic spin move. Getting an inch on Maple Leafs forward Andreas Johnsson, Tanev attacked the net. As Muzzin tried to defend, Tanev attempted to deke to this backhand but lost the puck and was tripped by Muzzin’s right skate. As Tanev slide into the crease and collided with Kaskisuo, causing him to fall out of position, Kahun claimed the puck and fired it into the vacant cage.
A referee immediately waved off the score. After the on-ice officials huddled together to reaffirm the call on the ice. Sullivan issued a passionate coach’s challenge, thanks to some communication between assistant coach Mark Recchi and other staffers. After a lengthy review, the call was overturned. Assists went to Tanev and Johnson.
They poured it on at 7:28 of the third. After Barrie made a careless turnover from the neutral zone, Marino took the puck behind his own blue line and fed it to Tanev in the neutral zone. Reversing direction, Tanev sparked a three-on-two rush into the offensive zone and fed a pass to the right wing for Kahun who one-touched it to McCann in the high slot. Allowing Tanev to drive to the crease, McCann gripped and ripped a wrister past Kaskisuo’s blocker. Kahun and Tanev netted assists.
The Maple Leafs got their lone score of the game from a prolific Penguins killer in forward Jazon Spezza at 14:49 of the second. Maple Leafs forward Nic Petan gained the offensive zone on the right wing while challenging Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin one-on-one. Spinning away from Dumoulin at the right dot, he fed a little pass to a trailing Spezza. Fending off a backcheck from Rust, Spezza snapped off a wrister past goaltender Tristan Jarry’s glove on the near side. Assists were credited to Petan and Barrie.
Rust capped off the scoring with a short-handed goal at 3:54 of the third. After Petan fumbled a puck above the Penguins’ right circle, forward Teddy Blueger scooped it up and led a two-on-one rush up ice against Barrie. As Maple Leafs forward Kasperi Kapanen made a furious but futile backcheck, Blueger fed a pass from the left circle to the opposite side of the crease where Rust tapped the puck past Kaskisuo’s skate. Blueger had the lone assist.
• The Penguins led in shots, 38-33.
• Maple Leafs forward Ilya Mikheyev led the game with seven shots.
• Rust led the Penguins with five shots.
• Muzzin, a former Penguins prospect many years ago, led the game with 22:53 of ice time on 26 shifts.
• Marino led the Penguins with 22:04 of ice time on 28 shifts.
• The Maple Leafs dominated faceoffs, 39-18 (68 percent).
• Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews was 12 for 15 (80 percent).
• Penguins forward Dominik Simon was 3 for 3 (100 percent).
• Kapanen, another former Penguins prospect, led the game with four blocked shots.
• Marino led the Penguins with three blocked shots.
• Rust (124 points) surpassed forwards Gregg Sheppard (123) and Val Fonteyne (121) for 72nd place on the franchise’s career scoring list.
• In nine career games against the Maple Leafs, Rust has nine points (three goals, six assists).
• In 38 career games against the Maple Leafs, Malkin has 64 points (22 goals, 42 assists).
• McCann’s goal was his 100th career point.
• In 46 career games against the Penguins, Spezza has 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists).
• The Penguins snapped a skid of six consecutive games in which they failed to get the first lead. The last time they had done that was in a 7-1 whipping of the Philadelphia Flyers at home on Oct. 29.
• With Bjugstad sidelined, forward Joseph Blandisi was recalled and the bottom three lines were shaken up. While Guentzel-Malkin-Rust remained status quo, Tanev was bumped from the fourth line to the second line with McCann and Kahun.
Blandisi took over for Bjugstad as the third-line center and had Galchenyuk as well as Simon on his wings. The new fourth line included Blueger at center with Zach Aston-Reese and Sam Lafferty at the wings.
• The Penguins were 2 for 2 on the penalty kill. They have killed 20 consecutive penalties over the past nine games.
• The Penguins recorded their fourth short-handed goal of the season. Only the Vegas Golden Knights (five) have more this season.
• Last season, the Penguins didn’t record their first short-handed goal until Dec. 14.
• Since coming back from injury on Oct. 26, Rust has 10 points (six goals, four assists) in nine games.
• In his first start since Oct. 23, Jarry made 32 saves.
• The Maple Leafs have lost five consecutive games.
• Sullivan spoke about teaming Malkin, Rust and Guentzel on a line:
“Number one, they’re three pretty good players. (Rust) brings the speed element. When Sid went down with an injury, we were trying to figure out what was the best combination that would create the balance that we need throughout the lineup. But we’re also trying to maximize Jake. Jake is a real good goal scorer. We thought we would try him with (Malkin) and see how it went. The last two games, that line has been dominant. Even last night, they didn’t end up on the scoresheet but they did everything else but score. They generated double digits in scoring chances last night just as a line. We thought they were gaining some traction last night. We kept them together and (saw) how it went. We thought they had a strong game tonight as well.”
• Guentzel said he doesn’t change much if he’s playing with Malkin or forward Sidney Crosby:
“Not really. I just try to stay to my game. Both really high-end players. Really good passers. I just try to find open spots for those guys.”
• Sullivan on his coach’s challenge:
“There’s a lot of gray area so it’s a tough call. You look at that scenario, it’s a 3-0 game. We challenge it, if we’re successful, it’s a 4-0 game. But if we (are not successful), we put a real good power play on the (ice). So it’s potentially a two-goal swing with a lot of hockey left. So that’s what’s at stake. I just felt strongly that it was a trip. … It’s a tough call because if it doesn’t go your way, it potentially can be a game-changer. That’s the tough part. That’s one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of the rule.”
• Sullivan on Jarry:
“He was solid. He made some timely saves for us. His rebound control was great. He was swallowing pucks. Sometimes, those are the toughest plays to defend is when the rebound lays in the scoring area and he swallowed a lot of them. It denies those opportunities for our opponents. I thought he made some real good saves.”
• Game summary.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .