TORONTO -- The Penguins have been one of the best teams in the NHL this season. Other than some injuries, not much was going poorly as they won seven of their first eight games.
Now, after running into a hot goaltender here, a third-period lapse there, they have taken possession of an ugly sidecar -- a losing streak.
"You don't want to let these things linger. You have to recognize some mistakes that we can correct," defenseman Matt Niskanen said after the Penguins lost their third game in a row, 4-1, against the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
They have not lost this many in a row in the regular season since a six-game losing streak Dec. 29, 2011 to Jan. 11, 2012.
Adding to the albatross of a losing streak was the potential loss of defenseman Rob Scuderi, who wore an orthopedic boot on his left foot and was on crutches after the game.
Scuderi was checked into the boards by Toronto's David Clarkson in the final minute of the first period. While teammate Deryk Engelland fought the Maple Leafs' Frazer McLaren in retaliation for the hit, Scuderi had to be helped off the ice.
"I don't have any definitive news," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's going to be re-evaluated when he gets back to Pittsburgh."
Bylsma wasn't sure if that would be before or after the Penguins finish this two-game road trip Monday at Carolina.
The Penguins started the night in a three-way tie with the Maple Leafs and Boston for the most points in the Eastern Conference at 14. Center Sidney Crosby started the night as the NHL's leading scorer with 18 points, but Toronto held him in check. He was limited to two shots, lost 18 of 30 faceoffs and had a plus-minus rating of minus-2.
Nazem Kadri broke a 1-1 tie less than two minutes into the third period for Toronto, which had lost three of its previous four games. He finished off a tic-tac-toe play after a turnover by Penguins center Evgeni Malkin in his offensive end.
"Through 40 minutes, I liked where our game was. I liked the way we played," Bylsma said. "We come out right at the beginning of the third and get a little impatient and force a turnover and that was enough."
Phil Kessel added a power-play goal with 2:55 left in regulation, and Dave Bolland scored into an empty net with 42 seconds left to seal it for the Maple Leafs.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, a Norris Trophy finalist last season, was playing in his second game after missing the first nine because of a knee injury. After a 4-3 loss Friday night to the New York Islanders, Bylsma noted that Letang probably should have shot the puck more on the power play.
Letang apparently listened.
He gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 6:52 of the first period. He pinched down into the right circle and one-timed a pass that came from Malkin from behind the net.
It was Letang's first point of the season.
The Penguins were getting good movement and shots on Toronto goaltender James Reimer on another power play later in the first period when things went sour.
Toronto's Dion Phaneuf picked off a Letang pass and set up Bolland for a short-handed breakaway. Bolland blasted a slap shot past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the score, 1-1, at 16:33 of the first period.
With 17 seconds left in the first period, Clarkson hit Scuderi into the boards near the Penguins blue line. Scuderi kneeled for a moment before he was assisted off the ice.
Scuderi was a member of the Penguins' 2009 Stanley Cup team. He then spent four seasons with Los Angeles -- where he won another Cup -- before he returned to the Penguins, signing as a free agent over the summer to give them a steady veteran who specializes in defensive play.
"That hurts," said Niskanen, who was paired with Scuderi while Letang was hurt. "He's been really good. Rock solid. Like he always is. He's the definition of consistency. So, hopefully, it's not too bad."
Letang and Scuderi have been slated to be a top defensive pairing for the Penguins this season, but they so far have played together less than four periods.
"We have a lot of depth defensively, good players," Letang said. "Somebody's going to have to step up and play a bigger role."
The injury comes just as the Penguins were starting to get a little healthier.
Not only did Letang return Friday to make his season debut, but winger Matt D'Agostini made his Penguins debut Saturday, the first day he was eligible to come off of long-term injured reserve. D'Agostini, another free agent signee over the summer, had been out since he got an unspecified injury in a preseason game.
He played primarily on the second line with Malkin and left winger Jussi Jokinen.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly. First Published October 26, 2013 10:00 PM