PITTSBURGH — Forty seconds into Saturday’s loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sidney Crosby was booting the boards in frustration and the Penguins were already behind.
They gifted the Leafs the early lead with an unfathomably bad line change, the sort of personnel switch you see at a pickup game at your neighborhood rink.
Four Penguins, including both defensemen, turned and skated to the bench as the puck rimmed around the boards and out of their zone. Auston Matthews saw that Kris Letang had vacated the right side of the ice and snapped a pass up to Mitch Marner, who scored on one of the easiest breakaways he will ever get.
“That just can’t happen that early in the game,” Jake Guentzel later lamented.
They were unable to recover in the 4-1 loss. The Leafs controlled the game from start to finish as they snapped the Penguins’ winning streak at five. It didn’t help that the Penguins had a tying goal wiped off the board in the second period.
The Penguins’ last loss also came against the Leafs, who won here Nov. 15.
“It’s tough to give one up on the first shift. Definitely,” Jeff Carter said. “But that being said, there’s still 59 minutes of hockey left. For whatever reason we couldn’t pull it together in the first [period] and that kind of set us back a little bit.”
Both teams were playing for the second straight day. The Penguins dominated the Flyers in Philadelphia on Friday evening. Meanwhile, the Leafs won in Minnesota and then had to hop on a flight halfway across the country to Pittsburgh.
Despite those circumstances, the Leafs had their legs Saturday. They didn’t give the Penguins much time and space and had them on their heels for much of the night. At one point they were outshooting the Penguins by a 24-6 margin.
The Penguins also lacked the attention to detail that had helped them go streaking. That was most evident when they spaced out at the end of their first shift.