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Pens come up short in 4-3 loss to Toronto

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A three-goal first period for the Maple Leafs was enough to bury the rallying Pens in the team's second loss in three home games Friday night.

A quick start would be an understatement.

Just 1:42 in the game, Toronto (19-10-1) had already planted a two-goal dictation of a game that Pittsburgh (16-12-3) could never fully dig out from in the 4-3 loss to the Atlantic division visitors.

The red-hot Tyler Bozak added goals five and six on the night, including the game-winning deflection past Casey DeSmith with just under two minutes in the second period.

Bozak’s first goal—the third scored in the first period—marked the final nail on goalie Tristan Jarry’s night, who was pulled in favor of DeSmith to start the second period.  Jarry stopped 13-of-16 shots, while DeSmith stopped 8-of-9.

The Maple Leafs, who have now won four of their last five games, also took their third game in four tries at PPG Paints Arena since 2016.

“We just weren’t good enough and it was the difference in the outcome,” said a dissatisfied Mike Sullivan.  “We can’t keep chasing games the way we’re chasing them.  When you play good teams, you can’t spot them a three-goal lead.  It’s a headscratcher for me.  I’m not sure I understand why, but that is something as a group we have to solve if we’re going to become the team that we want to be.”

Controlling much of the pace in the second and third periods, the Pens, who outshot Toronto 22-9 in the final 40 minutes, posted two second period goals, including an Evgeni Malkin (9) one-timer on the power play late in the period that brought the score to a 3-2 difference.

“We play only two periods,” said Malkin of the slow start that buried the Pens.  “The first couple of shifts are very important.  They were ready to play, and we’re not.  It’s not the first time, it’s the whole season.  When we start better, we win.  It’s not easy to win when you play just 40 minutes.”

Sidney Crosby punched home his 13th goal of the season on a perfect finish off a room service assist from Kris Letang with just under three minutes left in the game that eventually served as the final goal of the game.

“Tonight, we put ourselves in a bad spot there in the first period,” said Crosby, who finished his night with seven shots on net.  “We’ve got to come out with the mentality to dictate the pace.  We can’t come out and see what kind of game it is going to be, and before we know it, we’re down two or three.  I think that is basically what it comes down too.  We have to play exactly the same way every night, home or on the road.”

New addition Dominik Simon—who served on the third line—added a silver lining Friday, corralling his two assists, including one on a Riley Sheahan (3) two-on-one breakaway finish with just over five minutes left in the second period, which put the Pens on the board.

“It was beautiful,” said Simon, who starred in his sixth NHL career game after being called up from Wilkes-Barre yesterday.

After a Patric Hornqvist injury early in the third period, Simon moved up to the first line with Crosby, where he earned his second assist on 87’s goal.

“Dominic is a real good offensive player,” said Sullivan.  “He’s got great instincts, he sees the ice really well, he has the ability to think the game at that level, and so we thought we would try him up there and see how he did.  I thought he played really well.  I thought he had a strong game.”

“It’s unbelievable.  He makes the game so much easier for you,” said Simon about playing alongside Crosby.  “If you lose the puck or something, he’s always there to support you.  It felt great.”

Connor Brown and James Van Riemsdyk each added first period goals for Toronto.

Injury report

With one minute expired in the third period, Kris Letang shot a puck between blue lines that hit Patric Hornqvist in the head, removing the forward from the rest of the game.

“He’s being evaluated as we speak,” said Sullivan about the unknown condition of Hornqvist.

After the moneyline

Pittsburgh came in as the slight -130 favorite.

The total, which was set at six goals, sailed over on Crosby’s goal, marking the sixth time in the last seven games that the Pens have tallied the over.

Up next

The Pens will close out the five-game homestand when they host Colorado Monday night.  Puck drops at 7 PM.

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