Turns out the Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t much of a match for the NHL’s leading scorer – especially when he’s on a roll.
Sidney Crosby’s assault on the rest of the league continued unabated on Wednesday night in a 5-2 decision over the Leafs, as the Pittsburgh Penguins captain netted his 25th and 26th goals of the season in the early going to lead his team its 11th win in a row.
Crosby kicked off the proceedings early, scoring eight minutes into a lopsided first period that saw Toronto struggle to get out of its own end.
The wheels fell off entirely for the Leafs midway through the second, as Toronto gave up a 2-on-0 shorthanded break and Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis capitalized by beating netminder Jonas Gustavsson high glove side.
Pittsburgh’s Mark Letestu then scored his first of two goals on a weak one, making it 3-0 less than two minutes after Dupuis’s goal after the Pens’ undersized second line outmuscled several Leafs for the puck behind the net.
Crosby netted his second of the game shortly thereafter on yet another odd-man break and the rout appeared to be on.
The pair of goals extended Crosby’s point streak to an incredible 17 games, giving him 20 goals and 35 points in a red-hot span that has seen him take a commanding 10-point lead in the NHL’s scoring race.
Crosby now has 50 points after only 30 games, putting him on pace for a career high 137 points on the season.
Comeback kids come up short
The game initially looked like it was headed to be one of the bigger disasters on the season for the Leafs, who were out-shot 13-4 in the first period and 11-6 in the second and rarely had any puck possession in the first 40 minutes.
Toronto’s offence, however, came alive in the third – just as it had two nights earlier in a 5-4 shootout win in Washington – out-shooting Pittsburgh 15-2 in the period as the Penguins ran into penalty trouble.
With Crosby in the box for four minutes, centre Tyler Bozak scored on the power play to make it 4-1 four minutes in. Mikhail Grabovski, Toronto’s best forward of late, brought the deficit to two four minutes later.
It ultimately proved too little too late, but not before making things interesting – especially when Crosby left the game after blocking a shot. Letestu’s second goal with time winding down, however, ended the comeback bid.
Fleury on fire
Penguins netminder Marc-André Fleury nearly picked up what would have been the easiest shutout of his career but had his perfect game nullified as the Leafs came on in the third period.
With the win, Fleury extended his own hot streak, one that has been a little lost in all of the attention Crosby’s run has received of late.
After a shaky start to the season that saw backup Brent Johnson nearly steal away the starting duties, Fleury is 10-0-0 with a 1.59 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in his last 10 starts.
It was another tough night for Gustavsson, who appears to be struggling under the weight of starting nine of the last 10 games with Jean-Sébastien Giguère nursing a groin injury. He was, however, abandoned by his team on several occasions in the early going.
Out the past five weeks after suffering deep skate cut to his left leg, Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf could well make his return to the lineup Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Phaneuf missed 16 games with the injury, a stretch in which Toronto went 5-8-3 after starting the season 5-5-1 with him in the lineup.
Phaneuf’s return will leave coach Ron Wilson with a difficult call in terms of who to leave out of the lineup. In his absence, rookie Keith Aulie has played well and earned considerable ice time while well salaried veteran Mike Komisarek has struggled mightily.
Sitting Komisarek would be the right call but not an easy one given he is the highest paid free agent signing under GM Brian Burke.
Either way, things couldn’t possibly go much worse than they did through 40 minutes Wednesday night.