One would assume every team that plays the Pittsburgh Penguins prepares with same strategy: Keep an eye on No. 87.
And just about every one of them heads back to the dressing room after the game wondering the same thing: What happened?
That was the case Monday night in Pittsburgh as the Toronto Maple Leafs played a decent road game, but when push came to shove, Sidney Crosby - No. 87 - was the difference in scoring the game-winning goal at 13:57 of the third period.
It was Crosby's 19th goal of the season as he continues to lead the NHL in scoring. He is in search of his second Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer, having won it in 2006-07.
The Maple Leafs have played well against some of the league's best teams - most notably the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks - but have been unable to build off those performances. Toronto coach Randy Carlyle was disappointed with his team's effort in Pittsburgh.
He said he did not believe his team had the energy required to beat a team like the Penguins on the road.
"Quite honestly I didn't think we played very good in the first period," Carlyle said. "We didn't have much going. It seemed like we were a step behind for the first period. We got our game going in the second and in the third we made some mistakes."
So much for carry-over effect
The Maple Leafs thrashed the NHL-leading Chicago Blackhawks 7-3 at home Saturday
and were probably feeling pretty good about themselves until the Penguins brought them back to earth with a goal 39 seconds into Monday's game.
Rielly scores, but will he stay?
Toronto rookie defenceman Morgan Rielly scored his first goal
on a wrist shot from the faceoff circle, but that does not guarantee he will remain with the Maple Leafs.
"He has that wrist shot of his that is pretty dynamic," Carlyle said. "He's a young player and we're going to have a tough decision coming; that's for sure."
Rielly could be loaned to Team Canada to participate in the world juniors. Given how much and how well he has played for the Leafs of late, it seems unlikely that will happen.
Let's get physical
Everyone knows Crosby is the game's best offensive player, but he showed the physical side of his game on one shift in the first period when he bashed Toronto defenceman Carl Gunnarsson hard into the boards in the Maple Leafs' zone.
He then did likewise to winger Jerry D'Amigo on the same shift, but was not awarded a hit by the official stats provider.
Toronto's Troy Bodie, filling in for the suspended David Clarkson, engaged in two fights against the Penguins. He tangled with Robert Bortuzzo in the first period, a fight in which he slipped to the ice early, but got back up and earned a win when he switched from punching with his right hand to his left.
In the second period he went with Zach Sill and although he left the ice with a bloody nose, one could make the case that he won the fight. At worst it was a draw.
After Toronto defenceman John-Michael Liles drilled a slap shot into the pads of charging Penguin Jayson Megna, the puck squirted toward the Toronto net.
Megna chased after it, but when he reached the puck in the Toronto zone, he was greeted by Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier, who stormed out of his crease and delivered one of the hardest hits of the night
Ka-Booms II and III
Toronto's Jerry D'Amigo was nailed by Pittsburgh's Bortuzzo
in third period on a head-first hit. Bortuzzo was tagged with an illegal check to the head penalty, one the league will reportedly not review. D'Amigo went to the dressing room, but returned to the game.
On his first shift he was nailed again by Bortuzzo and this time left the ice with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.
There is no truth to the rumour the Penguins discounted ticket prices for this game even though both teams were missing some pretty significant talent. Pittsburgh was without Evgeni Malkin (leg), Rob Scuderi (ankle), Kris Letang (lower body), Brooks Orpik (head), James Neal (suspended) and Paul Martin (leg). The Maple Leafs were missing David Bolland (ankle), Colton Orr (elbow), Tyler Bozak (oblique strain) and Clarkson (suspended).
Son of a gun
With all the Penguins' absentees, they called a number of players up from the minors including Philip Samuelsson, the son of former Penguin Ulf Samuelsson. Philip's dad played 1,080 NHL games, many of them on the edge, scoring 57 goals and 333 points with 2,453 penalty minutes.
Pick me! Pick me!
Penguins left-winger Chris Kunitz is making a strong case to be selected to Canada's Olympic team. Not only is he on Sidney Crosby's line (think chemistry), he entered Monday's game 11th in NHL scoring with 17 goals and 33 points in 34 games including six goals and 12 points in his last 10 games.
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