The Pittsburgh Penguins’ hot start is now a memory as they dropped their third straight game – and second in as many nights – Saturday night in Toronto by a 4-1 count.
Just like Friday’s home loss to the Islanders, the Penguins allowed three goals in the third period to let a winnable game slip away. Nazem Kadri broke a 1-1 tie 1:26 into the final frame Saturday, followed by insurance goals from Phil Kessel and Dave Bolland, the latter of which went into an empty net.
The Penguins jumped on top early when Evgeni Malkin set up Kris Letang for his first goal of the season in his second game back from injury. The power-play marker came seven minutes into the first, but Bolland hammered a shorthanded slap shot past Marc-Andre Fleury on Pittsburgh’s next man-advantage.
After a first period that featured eight penalties and four power plays, the Penguins thrived in the more free-flowing second, outshooting Toronto 16-4. However, Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer – who made 37 saves in all – stopped every shot in the frame and limited the visitors’ rebound opportunities.
The Penguins’ game sagged noticeably in the third, and their malaise wasn’t aided by Malkin’s giveaway in the offensive zone that directly led to Kadri’s goal. James van Riemsdyk fed Kessel in over the Pittsburgh blue line, then Kessel found Kadri in the slot for a backhand deke and his fourth of the year.
Even down a goal, the Penguins had difficulty generating speed through the neutral zone and often had to settle for fruitless dump-ins. Brooks Orpik’s late hooking penalty gave the Leafs an opportunity to put the game away, and they did when van Riemsdyk’s slick no-look pass hit Kessel on the doorstep for an easy finish, his seventh.
Pittsburgh finally generated some zone time in the final two minutes with Fleury off the ice for an extra attacker, but still couldn’t get a shot through to Reimer. Toronto fired 13 shots in the third to the Penguins’ seven, reflecting the Leafs’ edge in play in front of their home fans at Air Canada Centre.
Not only did the loss drop the Penguins (7-4-0, 14 points) behind the Leafs (8-4-0, 16 points) for first place in the Eastern Conference, it also marked the second time in three games that league-leading scorer Sidney Crosby was held without a point. He still has 18 points (8g, 10a) in 11 games, but his mini-drought has come in tandem with Pittsburgh’s losing streak.
The Penguins get Sunday off before challenging the Metropolitan Division rival Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., on Monday night. Faceoff is set for 7 p.m. from PNC Arena.