There was no minimizing the mass or the energy Wednesday night in the Penguins crowd, but the truth is that the attendance figure itself, 18,641, the biggest such hockey number for Consol Energy Center, might require an asterisk.
• Free hot dogs.
Scoff not, free hot dogs were among the giveaways as the organ-I-zation welcomed back its frothing hockey-starved fan base, and no one should ever, ever minimize the allure of hot dogs.
Free hot dogs alone have been known to draw crowds in the thousands regardless of the elements or the precise intensity of your hockey jonesing, and as it happened, the home opener found the giveaways extending all the way to the ice surface, where Evgeni Malkin was giving the puck away with enthusiasm.
Geno practically put mustard and onions on the one he fed Toronto's James van Riemsdyk right there in the slot in front of Marc-Andre Fleury late in the second period, and this former Flyers player wristed it to the net for the lead the Maple Leafs would not relinquish.
What, no relish?
It was not Malkin's only giveaway of the game, and certainly not the only one fecklessly presented by the Penguins uniformed personnel. It was merely symptomatic of a generally sloppy, not to mention untimely performance for the regular eyewitnesses after two boffo road performances to open the season.
"We didn't get to our game," said Sidney Crosby reflexively. "We had our chances, but they're a fast team that can create chances pretty quickly."
The Maple Leafs, the youngest team in the NHL that isn't named the Blue Jackets, were not intimidated after skating scorelessly through a first period in which the Penguins built a 1-0 lead they seemingly couldn't wait to give away.
It was van Riemsdyk who snapped the 1-1 tie as well, twisting around Craig Adams while Nikolai Kulemin was getting behind Kris Letang to the left of Fleury, and Kulemin's crackling crossing pass left the goaltender virtually no chance.
"Both goals, really, I didn't have to do much," van Riemsdyk said of his first tallies in a Toronto uniform. "I think I know it's going to take a little time to get acclimated; it's a process, so I was just trying to use my speed and not think so much."
There wasn't a lot of thinking on the other bench, in fact, as the Penguins took 10 penalties to go with those seven giveaways (five by Malkin and Crosby).
"There were definitely some of those penalties where we shouldn't have taken them," defenseman Brooks Orpik said, "but there were definitely some that were questionable. It's like we looked rusty and the officials looked a little rusty, too."
Don't get Orpik wrong. He can read a scoreboard as well as anybody.
"Their top two lines have a lot of speed, and that kind of gets magnified if you're turning the puck over," Orpik said. "I thought they were better than us in a lot of different areas. They took a lot of energy out of us."
The three goals the Penguins surrendered in little more than 11 minutes of the middle period matched the most they had allowed in either of their earlier wins, and, when Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski made it 4-2 early in the third, the fact that Malkin and Crosby each registered their first goals of the new season pretty much went into the books as a footnote rather than as highlights.
Crosby scored on a breakaway when Pascal Dupuis found him with a smart pass up ice, but the captain played one of his least memorable games despite a goal and an assist, ending it with a sorry flourish when his unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty helped the Leafs to a fifth goal and a 5-2 final.
Malkin joined him in late-game frustration, absorbing a 10-minute game misconduct at the final horn.
The Maple Leafs weren't exactly doing cartwheels after improving their record to a Penguins-matching 2-1, and that was because right winger Joffrey Lupul took a puck off the forearm in the first period, three days after signing a five-year $26.25 million contract extension with Toronto. Lupul was second on the Maple Leafs a year ago in goals (25), assists (42), points (67) and power-play goals (8). CBS Sports.com was reporting late last night that Lupul's forearm had been fractured.
"No one guy is going to replace him," said van Riemsdyk. "It'll take a lot of people."
So you likely can iron that Lupul wrinkle into the fabric that is the NHL's Eastern Conference in a truncated season where the balance of power will shift nearly every night. It looks like the Penguins won't go undefeated, and it looks more like maybe they should limit their giveaways to the concourses.mobilehome - genecollier
Gene Collier: email@example.com.