PITTSBURGH (AP) – Phil Kessel spent six seasons with the Maple Leafs, so the Pittsburgh Penguins forward admits it was strange to see his former teammates on the other bench.
A win against them made it little easier.
Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maatta scored first-period goals and Kessel’s new team held on for a 2-1 victory over Toronto on Saturday night.
“I’m happy whenever we win, but this one is extra special playing the old team,” said the three-time All-Star, who came to Pittsburgh in a blockbuster trade in July. “Obviously, I played with those guys for a long time. They’re good friends and it’s weird the first time playing against them, but they’ll always be my buddies.”
Malkin scored his second goal in as many games and Maatta collected his first of the season for Pittsburgh, which won its second straight after dropping the first three games.
Marc-Andre Fleury, playing in his 600th career game, made 26 saves as Pittsburgh won its sixth straight against Toronto.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored in the team’s first five games, a career-worst stretch to start the season. The Penguins are also one of just two teams without a power-play goal this season, coming up empty in 17 chances through five games.
“We have to get our power play in sync,” coach Mike Johnston said. “We know that and we’re looking at all options.”
Jake Gardiner scored his second goal in as many nights for Toronto, which has lost four of five to begin the season. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, making his first start, stopped 31 shots.
“Credit to our guys, I thought we were right on top of them and they didn’t have much space,” Bernier said. “I thought we deserved a better result.”
Kessel said he enjoyed his six sometimes turbulent seasons in Toronto where he helped the Maple Leafs make the playoffs just once, despite scoring 181 goals, the fifth-most in the league during that span.
“It’s different, but it’s part of the game,” Kessel said. “You just get used to it.”
Pittsburgh added Kessel to help bolster an already-dynamic offense, centered around Crosby and Malkin. But he has scored just one goal and added an assist as he tries to adjust to playing with Crosby.
“We get chances, we just have to start scoring,” Kessel said. “It will come.”
The rebuilding Maple Leafs won for the first time on Friday, breaking out against slumping Columbus as Toronto has 11 goals in three games after scoring just one in its first two.
“I was proud of our effort,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “Lots of good things, but we can be better.”
Malkin and Maatta scored 39 seconds apart less than seven minutes into the game. Malkin accelerated around Mark Arcobello along the right-side boards and snapped a wrist shot to the far-side blocker, beating Bernier.
Soon after, Sergei Plotnikov’s point shot was blocked by a defenseman and ricocheted to Maata, who swept it past an out-of-position Bernier from the top of the circle. The assist was Plotnikov’s first NHL point.
“We had lots of scoring chances and power plays. We should score more than that,” Malkin said.
A timeout steadied the Maple Leafs, who got a goal back later in the period when Gardiner took a Nazem Kadri pass and beat Fleury with a slap shot from the blue line.
NOTES: Maple Leafs’ F Tyler Bozak was scratched against Pittsburgh after leaving Friday’s game against Columbus with a lower-body injury. D Tim Erixon, who was part of the Kessel trade, sat for Pittsburgh along with F Bobby Farnham and D Adam Clendening . Fleury is the ninth player and first goaltender in franchise history to appear in 600 NHL games. . Pittsburgh continues a season-long five-game homestand Tuesday against Florida. The Maple Leafs visit Buffalo on Wednesday.
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