Pittsburgh Penguins' Jordan Staal celebrates his goal in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009, in Philadelphia. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Michael Perez)
TORONTO - Just like last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins are back on top.
With four wins in their first five games to start the 2009-10 NHL regular season, the defending Stanley Cup champs have taken an early lead in the Eastern Conference standings.
There's a long way to go, but give Pittsburgh credit for avoiding the early headaches of a Stanley Cup hangover that has sometimes plagued past champions.
"There's a lot of hockey left, but we wanted to get off to a good start to the season and keep it going," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who scored two goals to lead Pittsburgh over the host Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 on Saturday night.
The game against the Leafs was Pittsburgh's third in four days in the middle of a five-games-in-eight-days stretch. It also was Pittsburgh's second contest on a four-game road trip. Add it all up, and the Penguins faced a busy and potentially unforgiving start to the '09-10 NHL campaign.
Pittsburgh has proven to be up to the challenge, however, and the game against the Leafs also was an opportunity to right an old wrong.
"We didn't have a good outing our last time here and we wanted to make sure that didn't happen again tonight," Crosby said.
The previous time the Penguins were in Toronto - Feb. 14 of last season - they blew a 2-1 lead in the third period, allowing five unanswered goals. The next day, Michel Therrien was fired and Dan Bylsma took over as Pittsburgh's head coach. Under Bylsma, the Pens went 18-3-4 down the homestretch of the '08-09 season, and then went on to claim the Cup.
Bylsma wants the Penguins to maintain that high level of play throughout this season.
"We want to concentrate more on our own game," said the Penguins coach. "We have to play our style, play our gamea We don't want to react to what the other team is doing."
Against Toronto, the Penguins were superior all over the ice, but especially on special teams. Pittsburgh was 3-for-5 on the power play while killing off two Leafs advantages.
"You always want your team to respond," Bylsma said. "The last two games, we've been able to do that. We've answered the physical challenge, we've responded on the power play. Tonight our power play was a big turning point in the game."
Prior to beating the Leafs, Pittsburgh nipped their interstate arch-rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-4 on Thursday. That victory came one day after the Penguins' only defeat of the season, a disappointing 3-0 loss to the visiting Phoenix Coyotes.
"We've got a lot of guys here who are very motivated," Crosby said. "And that's important. We need that effort all the way through the season and the guys really realize that."