PITTSBURGH — Hockey fans who strolled down Centre Avenue to get inside PPG Paints Arena on Saturday — and looked up from their phones for a few seconds — might have noticed the familiar faces dangling from light poles outside the Highmark Gate.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Bryan Rust were the four Penguins chosen to have their scruffy mugs printed on those promotional banners.
Inside the building, those guys were nowhere to be found, nor was Jeff Carter, another who has quickly become a fan favorite. All five players — arguably among the team’s top seven or eight entering the season — were sidelined because of illness or injury when the Penguins hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
So of course the Penguins rolled to an easy victory. The final score was 7-1.
Toronto had the more talented team. But puck luck was overwhelmingly in Pittsburgh’s favor as the hockey game turned into a pinball game. Their first four goals all hit something before caroming behind Leafs goalie Jack Campbell.
In the first period, Drew O’Connor was credited with the opening goal after Marcus Pettersson’s point shot hit him in the pants and dropped into the net. Then a bevvy of fortunate bounces helped the Penguins pull away in the second.
Defenseman Mike Matheson’s wraparound try hit Justin Holl’s stick and ramped over Campbell’s left pad. Fifteen seconds later, Jason Zucker’s attempted pass nicked the boot of Timothy Liljegren and took a detour behind Campbell.
At that point, the visitors called timeout. Instead of regrouping, they seemingly agreed it wasn’t their night and that they should just get back to Canada healthy.
The Penguins had full control of the game when O’Connor whipped a back-door pass in the direction of Mark Friedman that went in off Jake Muzzin’s skate.
It was the first career two-goal game for O’Connor, a 23-year-old forward.