Power-play falters in Leafs loss

When perennial Leaf-killers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin pay a visit, the night is usually a frustrating one for Toronto. On Friday night, the Penguins superstars were held to a mere one assist on the scoresheet.

Yet, the Leafs still lost the game.

Captain Dion Phaneuf regretted that the team couldn’t at least muster a point in the standings, or perhaps even two, in the 2-1 defeat at the annual Hockey Hall of Fame game, played before a sellout crowd at Air Canada Centre. Toronto’s three-game winning streak ended, not because of a poor effort, but largely due to missed opportunities on the power-play.

The Leafs went 0-for-6 with the man advantage. Credit goes where it’s due to the Penguins penalty-kill, which had entered the game allowing just a single goal in their previous 41 times shorthanded. But the home team certainly had their chances to convert, most notably in the closing minutes of regulation with Jonathan Bernier on the bench for a 6-on-4 advantage.

“We were handling the puck way, way too long,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “They did a good job of forcing the man to the outside and blocking shots. We didn’t do a very good job of moving the puck, and when we did, we were overhandling it.”

Perhaps the most glaring example of Carlyle’s summary came in the second period when Toronto’s man advantage was aided by a broken stick belonging to Pittsburgh penalty killer Marcel Goc. With Phil Kessel searching for an open teammate – perhaps looking for the perfect chance to dish off a pass – he was foiled by his USA Olympic teammate Paul Martin, who in turn iced the puck. Kessel took his anger out on the boards, in frustration.

The Leafs’ top line was held off the scoreboard. James van Riemsdyk will be looking for redemption after missing an open net. Cody Franson was the only Leaf player to beat goalie Thomas Greiss, picking off an errant clearing attempt by Crosby for his second marker of the year.

Crosby was shut down most of the night by the Leafs’ third unit of Peter Holland between Mike Santorelli and Leo Komarov. Malkin on the other hand, made his presence felt, but not in the scoring summary where he usually dominates, having come into the game with 47 points in 25 career outings versus the Leafs. In the second period, he was robbed by netminder Jonathan Bernier on a glove save after a Toronto turnover created a 2-on-1 opportunity.

Then, with time winding down in regulation, Phaneuf crushed forward Patric Hornqvist with a punishing bodycheck. Malkin came to the defence of his teammate and engaged in a spirited battle with the Leafs defenceman. For his efforts, Malkin received an extra roughing penalty in addition to the offsetting minors.

The skirmish set the stage for Greiss’ heroics as the goalie foiled Tyler Bozak with a paddle save late in the game to preserve the win.

Pascal Dupuis had both goals for Pittsburgh.

With no forward finding the back of the net, the Leafs are lamenting an otherwise steady effort in which they held the other team’s top superstars in check.

Notes: The newest Hockey Hall of Fame inductees were honoured at centre ice before the game: players Rob Blake, Peter Forsberg, Dominik Hasek, Mike Modano, referee Bill McCreary, and builder Pat Burns – represented by his widow Line…Leafs alumni Lanny McDonald, Borje Salming and Mats Sundin were also on hand…Sundin had nothing but praise for his first ever Leafs coach: “Pat Burns was the best coach I had during my career in the NHL . He meant everything for me. He really taught me everything.”

Leafs lines:
van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kessel
Winnik-Kadri-Clarkson
Komarov-Holland-Santorelli
Panik-Smith-Leivo

Defence pairings:
Phaneuf-Franson
Rielly-Robidas
Gardiner-Polak

Starter: Bernier
Backup: Reimer

Attendance: 19,295

Leafs lines:
van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kessel
Winnik-Kadri-Clarkson
Komarov-Holland-Santorelli
Panik-Smith-Leivo

Defence pairings:
Phaneuf-Franson
Rielly-Robidas
Gardiner-Polak

Starter: Bernier
Backup:
Reimer

Attendance: 19,295

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca

Follow TMLfans.ca on Twitter: @Rob_DelMundo