James van Riemsdyk could feel the pressure increasing when the Toronto Maple Leafs forward went scoreless his first two games with his new club.
The Pittsburgh Penguins did their best to ease van Riemsdyk’s load. The speedy forward scored twice and added an assist in Toronto’s surprisingly easy, 5-2 win over the Penguins on Wednesday.
”Both those goals, I really didn’t have to do too much,” van Riemsdyk said.
Not the way the sloppy Penguins were handling the puck.
Van Riemsdyk gave Toronto the lead for good late in the second period when a weak clearing pass by Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin ended up right on van Riemsdyk’s stick at the top of the left circle. The quick shot that followed whizzed over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove and highlighted a night that sent the Penguins crashing back to earth after rousing opening weekend road wins in Philadelphia and New York.
Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Tyler Bozak also scored for the Maple Leafs. Nikolai Kulemin added three assists, and James Reimer stopped 28 shots in his first start of the season.
”I think we’ve showed we can play the rugged defensive game and tonight we have the ability to score as well,” MacArthur said. ”If we can find a way to use both things every night, you’ve got a good team and a good chance every night.”
The victory took some of the sting out of losing forward Joffrey Lupul to a fractured forearm in the second period. The 29-year-old, who signed a five-year contract extension on Sunday, got drilled by a slapshot from teammate Dion Phaneuf and did not return. Lupul will be re-evaluated on Thursday.
”It’s tough, but what can you do, you’ve got to move on,” MacArthur said.
Something the Penguins are only too happy to do when hockey’s festive return after a nine-month absence quickly turned sour.
Sidney Crosby and Malkin – the league’s reigning MVP – scored their first goals of the season for Pittsburgh, but the Penguins struggled with Toronto’s quickness and failed to play with the kind of discipline. The two superstars picked up misconduct penalties in the final minutes with things out of hand.
Fleury stopped 19 shots for the Penguins, but Pittsburgh couldn’t get off to its first 3-0 start in 18 years.
”There just wasn’t enough execution with the puck and management of the puck to play where we needed to play,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said.
The Penguins rolled through the first weekend of the truncated 48-game season, drilling the Flyers and Rangers and doing little to dampen expectations about Pittsburgh being an early Stanley Cup favorite.
And that was without Crosby or Malkin finding the back of the net.
Malkin ended his drought – such as it is for a player who scored 23 goals while playing in Russia as the lockout dragged on – late in the first period when he stuffed a pass from Crosby in between Reimer’s legs to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.
For the first time this season, it didn’t hold up.
Bylsma spoke about the problems Toronto’s quickness provides, saying his team gave the Maple Leafs a little too much room to operate last season.
Any attempts by the Penguins to tighten up, however, came up woefully short. Even with Bylsma experimenting with his lines – on a couple of occasions he paired Crosby and Malkin in even-strength situations – Pittsburgh looked a step behind.
”We didn’t get to our game consistently enough, that’s for sure,” Crosby said. ”We didn’t have enough shifts in their end, we didn’t execute and make passes thru the neutral zone as good as we could have. Definitely not our best game, that’s for sure.”
Toronto scored twice early in the second period to jump in front, including van Riemsdyk’s first goal for Toronto after being acquired in an off-season trade with the Flyers. Crosby needed just 25 seconds to tie it, beating Reimer between the legs on a breakaway for his first goal in 280 days.
The speedy Maple Leafs just kept coming, with van Riemsdyk collecting his second goal of the night – and his 101st career point – happily accepting Malkin’s miscue and beating Fleury with ease.
The Maple Leafs weren’t done. Another breakdown deep in Pittsburgh’s end led to Grabovski standing all alone on the doorstep. He slipped the puck past Fleury to give Toronto a 4-2 lead and send the largest crowd in the brief history of Consol Energy Center heading for the exits a little early.
”They have our number for some reason,” Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz said.
NOTES: The Maple Leafs scratched defensemen Cody Franson and Mark Fraser and center David Steckel. Defensemen Ben Lovejoy, Robert Bortuzzo and center Dustin Jeffrey … Toronto hosts the New York Islanders on Thursday night. The Penguins travel to Winnipeg on Friday … Pittsburgh offered free food and half off merchandise to all fans as an apology following the 119-day lockout.