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There were some concerns about the Pittsburgh Penguins' inexperience heading into the playoffs last season, but after they made it to the Stanley Cup finals, no one was questioning the young-but-talented team's development.
Five games into this season, coach Michel Therrien is.
One game after blowing a three-goal lead in a performance Therrien called "immature," the Penguins look to rebound Saturday against the visiting Maple Leafs.
Pittsburgh (2-2-1) hasn't looked much like the team that suffered just two losses in tearing through the Eastern Conference playoffs last season before succumbing to Detroit in six games in the Stanley Cup finals. The Penguins have 12 goals through five games - none from 21-year-old captain Sidney Crosby.
Despite a lack of offensive firepower, Pittsburgh looked like it was headed for a 3-1-1 start on Thursday when it led Washington 3-0 in the second period thanks to three power-play goals. But the Penguins gave one back in the second, then let the Capitals score three times in the third - while being outshot 21-6 - leading to an ugly 4-3 loss.
Therrien wasn't pleased, and he let his team know it.
"Unacceptable. It's pretty simple," the fourth-year coach said. "We played pretty well the first two periods. (In the third) it was immature and unacceptable."
Crosby has just four assists so far, as he's missing Marian Hossa, who served as Crosby's right wing for the final 12 games of the regular season and the team's playoff run. Hossa signed with Detroit as a free agent, leaving Crosby with newly acquired Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko as his linemates.
With that line yet to produce an even-strength goal, Therrien decided to mix things up heading into Saturday's visit from Toronto (1-1-2). Evgeni Malkin (two goals, four assists) will join Crosby and Pascal Dupuis on the top line, giving the Penguins' two best playmakers a chance to create together.
"We know that when we're put together that we have to make things happen," Crosby told the team's official Web site. "We want to make sure we respond."
Both have certainly thrived against the Leafs. Crosby has six goals and 13 assists in 12 career games against Toronto, while Malkin has five goals and 14 assists in eight games, including one of his two career hat tricks in a 6-2 win on Jan. 3.
The Maple Leafs posted an impressive win at Detroit in their season opener on Oct. 9, but they haven't picked up two points in a game since. After a 6-1 loss to Montreal, Toronto has lost its last two games in shootouts - 5-4 at St. Louis on Monday and 1-0 to the New York Rangers on Friday.
The positive for the Leafs was an excellent performance from goaltender Vesa Toskala, who came into the game with a 4.36 goals-against average in his first three starts. Toskala made 21 saves prior to the shootout to earn his 12th career shutout.
"I made some good saves and sometimes you need a little luck," said Toskala, who's 3-1-0 with a 2.76 GAA lifetime against Pittsburgh. "Sometimes they stay out and sometimes everything goes in. That's the life of a goalie."
Toskala hasn't been getting much offense in front of him. The Leafs have eight goals in their four games, and Nik Antropov, their leading returning goal-scorer, hasn't found the net yet after posting a career-high 26 goals in 2007-08.
He's fared well recently against the Penguins, though. Antropov has three goals and six assists in his last six games against Pittsburgh.
The Penguins and Maple Leafs split four meetings last season.
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