If the Toronto Maple Leafs look at how they played during overtime, they could tell themselves they deserved better than a 5-4 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
Despite all that pressure in overtime, though, the Leafs could not complete a come-from-behind win and had to settle for the single point when James Neal and Sidney Crosby beat Leafs goaltender James Reimer in the shootout and they could not do the same on Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Given the disparity in shots (38-21 Penguins through 60 minutes), the Leafs probably should not have been in the game by the third period. However, every time their defensive game sagged they managed to come back. Then in overtime they spent almost the entire five minutes putting the heat on the Penguins, with the exception of a nice save by Reimer on Crosby.
The point from the overtime loss moved the Leafs one point ahead of the idle Ottawa Senators and into sole possession of fifth place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference with 31 points.
Crosby does not expect to see a repeat of the collapse a year ago that saw the Leafs fall dramatically out of the playoff race.
“I think they’re a playoff team,” the NHL’s biggest star said of the Maple Leafs. “They’ve got a lot of speed, they fore-check hard. On defence they’re pretty solid, so yeah, I see them being a playoff team.
“They’re playing well and getting wins for a reason.”
That being said, however, Crosby thought his team should have put that game away in three periods.
“We let them get back in it,” he said. “We probably deserved to finish that one off in regulation time but they kept coming.”
Leafs winger Phil Kessel set up the fun for the last five minutes when he tied the score at 15:40 of the third period. He snapped a loose puck in the slot behind Fleury for his third goal in his last four games.
The Penguins lost centre Evgeni Malkin late in the third period when he was drilled into the boards by Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk. All Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma would say is Malkin has an “upper-body injury.”
Malkin has already missed four games this season with a concussion. Bylsma also declined to say what he thought of the hit by van Riemsdyk, who caught Malkin with a hard body check.
The Maple Leafs managed to stay within a goal of the Penguins through 40 minutes, although they were outshot 25-16. However, if Leaf goaltender James Reimer had been a little sharper and his defencemen just a bit quicker in clearing rebounds, the hosts might have fared better.
On each of the Penguins’ four goals through the first two periods a mistake by Reimer or the Leafs defence was the root problem, along with a little bad luck.
The first goal came just 36 seconds into the game starting when Leaf centre Tyler Bozak lost a faceoff in his own end to Malkin. The puck went back to Kris Letang at the point and Reimer stopped his shot, but the Leaf goaltender kicked the rebound into the slot and right on the stick of scoring machine James Neal. The Penguins winger quickly snapped his 16th goal of the season behind Reimer.
The Leafs managed to even the score several minutes later on a power-play goal by van Riemsdyk but let the Penguins in front again when Reimer misplayed another rebound. This time he corralled a flubbed shot by Letang, who kept skating and was rewarded when Reimer steered the puck right on the defenceman’s stick. Letang handed the puck to Sidney Crosby, who scored his 12th of the season.
Fifty seconds after that goal, Reimer again served up a fat rebound, this time to rookie forward Beau Bennett, who scored his second goal of the season.
Again, the Leafs came back on the power play, with a goal midway through the second period from Cody Franson, his 16th point in 22 games, an astonishing total considering how far down the depth chart he was last season.
But it didn’t last, as Reimer made another misplay. This time he let a shot from behind the net by Pascal Dupuis bounce off the inside of his goal pad and back through his legs into the net.
Clarke MacArthur brought the Leafs to within a goal a minute later, which set up a rollicking third period.
Winger Matt Frattin returned to the Leafs lineup after missing 12 games with a knee injury. He rejoined centre Nazem Kadri, bumping Leo Komarov to Mikhail Grabovski’s line. Frattin still needs to find his game legs, though, as he had a quiet night.
The Leafs are off for a couple of days and then travel to Winnipeg to play the Jets on Tuesday night.