The Toronto Maple Leafs were close a handful of times Friday night but came up empty on the power play, and that was the difference in a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Air Canada Centre.
Two nights after scoring three power-play goals in a victory over Boston, the Leafs went 0 for 6 with the man advantage against the Penguins (11-3-1) in the annual Hockey Hall of Fame game, including a stretch of three in a row in the second period.
"As a power-play unit we have to be better," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "That was an opportunity for us to shift the momentum in the game, and we weren't able to capitalize at a key moment. And that's our responsibility: We have to be better on the power play."
When the Leafs (9-6-2) couldn't score on their third power play of the second period, Robert Bortuzzo came out of the penalty box and helped generate Pascal Dupuis's first goal of the night on a deflection. Dupuis scored another 15 seconds into the third period on a one-timer that was set up by a sublime Sidney Crosby pass from the corner.
Even though Toronto broke up the shutout bid of backup goaltender Thomas Greiss and cut the deficit to one on Cody Franson's third goal of the season, the Leafs failed on one final power play late. It came about when Phaneuf hit Patric Hornqvist with a textbook check and Evgeni Malkin took exception.
Coach Randy Carlyle pulled goaltender Jonathan Bernier (39 saves on 41 shots) and the Leafs kept the puck in the zone for the duration of the six-on-four but couldn't score. Some credit goes to Greiss (30 saves) but the power play couldn't get the job done.
"We were handling the puck way, way too long," Carlyle said. "We were trying to make the stick-handle play, we weren't as sharp with the puck as we needed to be. They did a good job of forcing things to the outside and blocking shots when we did, but we didn't do a very good job of handling the puck and when we moved the puck we were over-handling it and maybe playing too slow."
Carlyle called the power-play outage more of an aberration than cause for concern given how well the Leafs had been performing in that area.
"Our group has been pretty good with the power play, we've worked very, very hard on it and they've done a good job with it," he said. "To criticize tonight, yeah, we weren't good enough with it tonight on the power play."
Pittsburgh's penalty kill entered the game tied for fourth in the NHL. The Leafs saw why.
"We have a lot of confidence in our kill," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "Our penalty kill has given our team a lot of confidence."
Toronto got a first-hand look at how effective Pittsburgh's penalty kill can be.
"They got active sticks, they're hard down ice, they pressure, they don't give you much time and space," Kadri said. "That's exactly what a power play loves to do is just kind of sit and look for plays and have all the time in the world and they really did a good job of that."
The Leafs visit the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. The Penguins return home to face the New York Rangers after going 4-1-0 on a season-long five-game road trip.
Beating Toronto was a bounce-back effort for the Penguins after getting walloped 5-0 by the Rangers at Madison Square Garden earlier in the week.
"Given the game we had in New York, I think guys were pretty motivated here," said Crosby, who reclaimed sole possession of the NHL's scoring lead with his 25th point of the season. "We don't like seeing that happen, especially when it's your work ethic, when that comes into question, I think, guys have a lot of pride. You can't have that happen two nights in a row, so it was a good response from everyone."
Penguins players praised Malkin for going after Phaneuf, even though it appeared to be a clean shoulder-to-chest hit on Hornqvist. Phaneuf had no issue dropping the gloves.
Bernier was summoned to the bench at the faceoff with 2:14 left and hoped his teammates could force overtime. The Leafs got a flurry of chances, but Greiss was up to the task.
"That was a big challenge for us," Bernier said. "We were close, but we didn't finish."
Notes — Penguins centre Brandon Sutter got stitches on his ear after getting hit by a slap shot from Toronto defenceman Roman Polak in the third period. Sutter left the game, but Johnston said he was OK. ... Franson's goal extended his point streak to six games. ... Because this was the Hall of Fame game, there were no "3 Stars." Instead, Dupuis was named player of the game as voted by a panel. ... The Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2014 — Dominik Hasek, Peter Forsberg, Mike Modano, Rob Blake, the late Pat Burns (represented by widow Line) and referee Bill McCreary — was honoured in a pre-game ceremony. ... James Reimer is expected to start for the Leafs on Saturday night in Buffalo. Marc-Andre Fleury will get the nod for the Penguins against the Rangers.
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