Penguins' win streak ends at 3 with 4-2 loss
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TORONTO -- Ryan Malone of the Penguins scored one goal last night.
He briefly was credited with another, too, even though he had nothing to do with it.
But it's the shots that never made it into the net that Malone figures to remember most.
Like the short-ended breakaway he failed to convert early in the third period of what became a 4-2 loss to Toronto at the Air Canada Centre.
And the opportunity he had with about a minute left in regulation with the Penguins pressing for the goal that would have forced overtime.
Maple Leafs center Mats Sundin inadvertently had knocked the puck toward Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala, giving Malone what he described as "a nice little rebound" in front of the net.
"It was bouncing a little bit," he said. "I just tried to chip it over his pad. [Toskala] got a piece of it, and it went into the corner. It would have been nice if it went into the back of the net."
It didn't, though, and a few seconds later Alexei Ponikarovsky tossed it into an empty net at the other end of the ice to secure the Maple Leafs' second two-game winning streak of the season.
The Penguins, meanwhile, slipped to 11-12-2. They failed to get over .500 for the first time since they were 7-6-1 and to record their first four-game winning streak since March 24-29.
But they did get what coach Michel Therrien figured was a fair return on a lackluster effort during the first 40 minutes.
"We didn't play well for two periods," he said.
"That probably was our worst two periods in a long time. When you don't battle, when you're not focused, when you don't work for 60 minutes, it's tough to win in this league."
Mark Bell gave Toronto a 1-0 lead at 3:56 of the opening period, when he beat goalie Dany Sabourin on the short side from above the left dot. Sabourin did not react to the shot because defenseman Mark Eaton was in his line of vision.
"I never moved," Sabourin said. "Normally, I would go down on those shots."
Sidney Crosby got some penalty-killing work after Gary Roberts was sent off for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct at 17:49, and promptly set up Malone during a two-on-one break. Although their rush did not produce a goal, it did lead to a holding minor on Toronto defenseman Bryan McCabe.
The Penguins subsequently survived a two-man disadvantage for 15 seconds early in the middle period, but gave up a two-on-zero break seconds after returning to full strength, and Jason Blake capitalized on it to give Toronto a 2-0 lead.
Kyle Wellwood carried the puck through the neutral zone and into the Penguins' end before sliding a pass to Blake, who beat Sabourin from between the left circle and the crease for his first goal in the past 19 games.
"I was trying to be patient," Sabourin said. "To make sure they didn't score into an empty net. I was trying to make it hard on them."
The Penguins got a scare midway through the period, when Crosby was tripped by Toskala and smacked his ankle off the goalpost. He sat out the first part of the power play, but returned to the ice 94 seconds after it began.
"He was in pain, but you could tell right away that it was not a major thing," Therrien said. "So, I wasn't worried."
Nik Antropov got what proved to be the winner at 14:09, deflecting in a McCabe shot while Jordan Staal was serving a hooking minor.
Toskala made his best stop of the evening on Malone's short-handed breakaway at 6:40 of the third -- "A defining save," Toronto coach Paul Maurice said -- but Malone got a bit of revenge almost immediately.
He was driving to the net when the rebound of a Colby Armstrong shot caromed off his right knee and sailed over Toskala's right shoulder at 8:15 to make it 3-1.
Malone also got credit for a goal at 17:55, but it subsequently was awarded to Erik Christensen, whose shot from along the goal line to the right of the net had rolled down Toskala's back and into the net.
That ended a 10-game goals-scoring drought for Christensen, but the Penguins couldn't get another puck behind Toskala. Which, all things considered, they probably didn't deserve to do, anyway.
"You can't just turn it on in the third period," Malone said, "and hope for the best."
First Published December 2, 2007 12:00 am