TORONTO — Led by the league’s top scorer and a potent supporting cast, the high-flying Maple Leafs filled the opposition net almost at will through the first two weeks of the NHL season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins stopped Toronto’s juggernaut in its tracks Thursday.
Matt Murray made 38 saves for his first shutout of 2018-19 as the Penguins snapped the Leafs’ five-game winning streak with a stifling 3-0 victory.
“We played really solid all the way through and battled hard,” said Murray, who returned after missing three games with a concussion. “That’s a crazy, dynamic team over there and we were able to hold them off pretty well.”
“It’s the best game this season so far for us,” said Malkin, who added an assist on Letang’s empty netter for a three-point night. “We played three periods against (Auston) Matthews, (John) Tavares. We did a great job.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby picked up an assist on Pittsburgh’s opener to move into a tie with Darryl Sittler for 60th on the NHL’s all-time points list with 1,221.
Crosby was also instrumental in keeping Matthews, who leads the league with 16 points (10 goals, six assists), to just one shot attempt through two periods.
“They have a lot of offensive weapons,” Crosby said. “We did a great job of limiting their chances. They’re going to get them, they’re a pretty highly-skilled group, but we didn’t give them any freebies.”
Frederik Andersen stopped 36 shots for Toronto (6-2-0), which came in averaging an NHL-high 4.71 goals per game.
“All victories, you’ve got to earn,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. “It was right there for us to find another step and get better and find a way to get on the inside a little more, and they did a good job and kept us from doing that. There’s a lesson learned in that.
“They’re a more veteran, polished playoff team than we are and it showed.”
Murray picked up the seventh shutout of his career after suffering a concussion in practice on Oct. 8. Andersen, meanwhile, returned to Toronto’s net after sitting out Monday’s 4-1 victory over Los Angeles with a minor knee injury.
Matthews was looking to become just the third player in league history to start a season with eight consecutive multi-point games, but was unable to get much of anything going.
“We had a hard time getting on the inside,” said Matthews. “There are a lot of things that we can improve on. It seems like they were just calm, cool, collected.
“They didn’t run around, they just played smart and didn’t force anything.”
With much of the talk in the lead up focusing around which player holds the unofficial title of “best player in the world” — Edmonton captain Connor McDavid, Matthews or Crosby — it was Murray and Andersen who stood out in a matchup between teams that started the night averaging a combined 8.11 goals per game.
Coming off back-to-back shootout and overtime losses to Montreal and Vancouver, respectively, the Penguins took that 1-0 lead at 11:42 of the first period — just six seconds after the Leafs were whistled for too many men on the ice.
Crosby won the draw and the puck found its way down low to Malkin, who fired a low shot that beat Andersen through the pads on Pittsburgh’s 15th shot.
Toronto had a couple of chances earlier in the period, including Murray thwarting Tavares after he stepped past Letang down low.
Tavares had another great opportunity off a slick feed from Mitchell Marner after Malkin gave the Penguins the lead, but Murray made a nice pad stop.
Leafs winger Zach Hyman, who took a nasty high stick that went uncalled late in the first, had the puck alone in front early in the second, but Murray was there again.
The increasingly frustrated Leafs pushed midway third — Nazem Kadri had the first of a couple great opportunity with eight minutes to go — but Murray stood tall whenever the Penguins’ tight setup showed any cracks before Malkin and Letang scored into the empty net.
“I didn’t think there was tons of room out there,” Babcock said. “They played fast, played with good structure.
“It’s not often you see our team get no goals.”
Notes: Mario Lemieux (1992-93) holds the NHL record for consecutive multi-point games to start a season with 12, while Kevin Stevens, one of his linemate that year, did it eight times. … Crosby’s junior teammates nicknamed him “Darryl” because they thought he was the only player who could break Sittler’s record of 10 points in a single game set in 1976 when the Hall of Famer was with Toronto. … The Leafs wrap up a three-game homestand Saturday against St. Louis. … The Penguins don’t play again until next Tuesday when they begin a trip through Western Canada that will see them visit Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.