The steady stream of bold-faced names heading to injured reserve shows no signs of abating for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
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Thankfully for the Penguins, neither is Sidney Crosby.
Crosby’s 19th goal of the season broke a tie with just over 6 minutes remaining and Pittsburgh edged the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Monday night for their fourth straight victory.
Chris Conner and Brandon Sutter also scored for the Penguins, who were playing without a number of regulars, including forward Evgeni Malkin.
”We keep finding ways,” Crosby said. ”A lot has to do with the way the (new guys) are playing.”
Pittsburgh took the ice with a handful of players who have spent the majority of the season at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League and only one defenseman – Matt Niskanen – with more than one year of NHL experience.
It hardly mattered on a night the Penguins kept the speedy Maple Leafs in check. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots for Pittsburgh to improve to 27-3 in his past 30 home starts. Pittsburgh has won four straight and nine of 10.
”It’s a pretty unique situation,” Niskanen said. ”One rookie and five young guys playing. … These guys have been coming up and playing with confidence and doing a good job. That’s exciting for the organization.”
Morgan Rielly scored the first goal of his career for the Maple Leafs. Jonathan Bernier made 28 saves, but couldn’t stop Toronto from losing for the fourth time in its past five games.
”We just weren’t sharp,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said.
The Penguins have a firm grip on the top of the Metropolitan Division despite a series of injuries to high-profile players.
Kris Letang joined fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik (concussion), Paul Martin (broken leg) and Rob Scuderi (broken ankle) on the IR Monday with an upper-body injury of his own, forcing coach Dan Bylsma to get creative with his pairings.
Rookie Philip Samuelsson, whose father Ulf won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Penguins in the early 1990s, made his NHL debut against the Maple Leafs. The younger Samuelsson received a quick lesson from his teammates on the level of expectation from Brian Dumoulin, playing in just the second game of his career.
Dumoulin helped give the Penguins a quick 1-0 lead, collecting the puck near the point then firing it on net, allowing Conner to jab it by Bernier for his third goal of the season 39 seconds into the game.
The tally seemed to embolden Pittsburgh, which controlled play for long stretches in the first period, keeping Bernier busy while the defense did a fine job of neutralizing Toronto’s speedy counterattack.
The Maple Leafs tied it 6:03 into the second as Rielly, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, skated through the Pittsburgh zone and beat Fleury over the goaltender’s right shoulder for the highly regarded defenseman’s first career goal.
The power-play score ended the Penguins’ streak of 18 consecutive penalty kills, though the score had less to do with any kind of breakdown and more to do with Rielly’s wicked wrist shot.
Toronto kept the pressure on well into the third period, but Pittsburgh regained control after killing off an illegal check to the head penalty on Robert Bortuzzo, who leveled Maple Leaf forward Jerry D’Amigo during a collision near center ice. The 6-foot-4 defenseman, who has struggled to crack the lineup, shook off the penalty and even picked up his first point of the season on Crosby’s winner.
The Maple Leafs won the draw deep in their zone but Bortuzzo knocked down the clearing attempt then fed the puck up the wall to Pascal Dupuis, who slipped a quick pass to Crosby between the circles.
”There was a lot of room there,” Crosby said. ”(Dupuis) made a great pass on my tape and I found the back of the net.
Sutter’s short-handed empty-net goal with 3 seconds left sealed it and the Penguins remained hot while the Maple Leafs couldn’t back up a promising 7-3 romp over defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago on Saturday night.
”We were a little inconsistent, but we did do some good things,” Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf said. ”We’ve got to capitalize on the power play and do some things better.”
NOTES: Toronto finished 1 of 5 on the power play. … The Penguins are 13-1 when leading after the first period. … Pittsburgh has won eight straight games at Consol Energy Center. … The Maple Leafs begin a three-game homestand on Tuesday against Florida. … Pittsburgh forward Jason Megna left with a lower body injury and did not return. He is not expected to play Wednesday when the Penguins face the Rangers in New York.