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THN.com Blog: The dressing room difference between Toronto and Pittsburgh

Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal celebrate a goal in Saturday's 5-2 win over Toronto. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

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Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal celebrate a goal in Saturday's 5-2 win over Toronto. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

Night and day. That’s pretty much the only way to describe what it was like in the Pittsburgh and Toronto dressing rooms Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.

The Pens, of course, manhandled the Leafs 5-2 in front of a Toronto crowd that, by game’s end, interrupted its 8,000 or so conversations only to cheer Sidney Crosby and boo the home team. Sid the Kid had two goals, Geno Malkin three assists, Sergei Gonchar two points, Jordan Staal the deflating fifth tally just more than two minutes into the third and Marc-Andre Fleury 18 easy saves for the win. The Pens’ superior talent was in fine form; the Leafs’ just deserved a fine.

“Obviously we didn’t do good things today,” said normally exuberant and quotable Leafs winger Niklas Hagman in a monotone that just made you feel sorry for him. “For some reason we didn’t have the energy that we needed.”

Pittsburgh was up 2-0 after about 10 minutes and the outcome already wasn’t in doubt – and, really, shouldn’t ever have been. And both times the Leafs scored to cut into that lead, the Pens scored fewer than 90 seconds later to kill any momentum. It’s no surprise the Leafs lost, but it’s what I saw after the game that struck me.

From the press box I headed straight for the Pens dressing room. As the media gathered to await entry, so did Crosby groupies and fans looking to sneak into the room for an up-close-and-personal moment with their hero.

The Pens room was abuzz. Players were smiling and joking, it was loud; the mood was jovial. And not ‘we just won a game’ jovial, but ‘we’re awesome, we know it and we’ve got nothing to prove’ jovial.

The injured, but always entertaining Max Talbot joined the Fleury scrum. Talbot told the goalie to answer questions in French that he would then translate. Everyone knew this wasn‘t going to be a typical question and answer period. Fleury, much shier than Talbot, agreed in an almost ‘aw shucks’ manner and began answering. Talbot then ‘translated,’ offering typical hockey-speak answers. But by question three he was bored and offered something it was obvious Fleury hadn’t said. That was all the netminder could take. He immediately made sure it was known he didn’t say what Talbot said, everyone broke up in laughter and Talbot went on his merry way, shaking hands and telling stories.

That’s what the Pens room was like.

Down the hall, things were decidedly different. ICU comes to mind when I think of what the Leafs room was like. Maybe crypt is a more apt description. Not that I’d expect a losing dressing room to be jovial, but in three years of being around the Leafs room, this was the worst I’d seen.

“It’s depressing here right now,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson.

He was right on the money.

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The energy that Hagman noted wasn’t there on the ice wasn’t there after the game, either. In the Leafs room about 10 minutes after the doors were opened, only Hagman and rookie Jay Rosehill were talking.

When I asked for Mikhail Grabovski, I was politely told he was working out and unavailable, and that the room would soon be closed (and that things are different after a win). Fair enough, but c’mon, Toronto lost to the Stanley Cup champs, not the Islanders. And Grabovski unavailable four games into the season? That seems a bit much.

Either way, there was no hootin’ and hollerin’ to be heard. No jokes or laughter from the showers or players’ lounge. In the areas media aren’t allowed, but can still see the players, the Leafs materialized like wraiths: silent, shoulders hunched, unable or unwilling to meet your gaze. And this was all before the team got waxed again on Monday night, 7-2 by the Rangers. I can’t even imagine what the visitors’ room at Madison Square Garden was like then.

The Leafs are in last place overall two weeks into the season, the Pens tied for first. The divide between the teams couldn’t be wider in a number of areas – points, talent level and atmosphere. This isn’t a condemnation of the Leafs or any type of hero worship of the Penguins, but the reality of their two situations couldn’t have been more starkly obvious than it was in the dressing rooms post-game on Saturday night.

Upbeat and loose in one; down and out in the other.

Staal taking leadership role with Pens

PRODUCER: Ted Cooper | PRODUCTION ASSISTANT: Sean Leathong

John Grigg is a copy editor and writer with The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog appearing regularly during the summer and the Wednesday Top 10.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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