Sid the Kid powers Pens to victory

LANCE HORNBY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Hard to tell which was the Maple Leafs' worst enemy last night, Sidney Crosby, the referees, the injury bug or themselves.

All four problem areas mirrored a 4-1 Penguins win, putting grave doubts in Toronto's ability to survive the prolonged absence of banged-up veteran forwards. The thin lineup and a hungry Crosby set the table for the Pens to end their five-game losing streak, while the Leafs might have missed their best chance for two points before four straight divisional games.

General manager John Ferguson has a lot on his plate, fretting about goaltending, the severity of Kyle Wellwood's groin/hip flexor injury, which could require a specialist, all while keeping an eye on the NHL waiver wire for forwards. It's believed names such as Dimitri Afanasenkov and Andreas Karlsson (Tampa) and Jeff Cowan (Los Angeles) went on in the past couple of days.

Behind the bench, coach Paul Maurice was missing Darcy Tucker, Michael Peca and Wellwood, among others, down to a lineup with six players who served with the Marlies this season and six who do not have an NHL goal this year.

Frustration clearly was evident on the Leafs' side of Mellon Arena, with captain Mats Sundin snapping at the officiating supervisor, goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin in a state of shock, Tucker hobbling around with a special medical shoe and the Leafs kicking themselves for giving the NHL's leading scorer 10 power plays from which to pick and choose .

"Here we go again, the special teams win a game for you, but you take 10 penalties and that's too many," defenceman Pavel Kubina said.

A promising 1-1 score unraveled at the second period buzzer when Bryan McCabe was given what he termed an "iffy" tripping penalty, compounded by Sundin's hook 16 seconds into the third. Sergei Gonchar fired the 5-on-3 winner 37 seconds later.

"I was just reaching for (the puck), I don't know where that call came from," an incredulous Sundin said later. "But we took too many penalties. I don't know if it's because we were tired, but they have too many good guys up front on that team."

Crosby had not had a point the past two games, but he ended up with three assists and drew at least four Leafs minors. He improved to 58 points and seven in five career meetings with the Leafs. Pens coach Michel Therrien put his scoring eggs in one basket, as Evgeni Malkin had a goal and assist and Mark Recchi was robbed of a sure goal by McCabe's stick.

But that was the latter's only shining moment as he could not ignite an 0-for-6 Leafs' power play and was stripped by Jordan Staal for the fourth Penguins goal.

OUT OF GAS

"You kill penalties all the time and it takes the gas out of you," McCabe said. "We're missing five of our top forwards so we have to keep it simple. We can't beat ourselves, but we did."

Playing his first game in his former city against Marc-Andre Fleury, one of the goalies who ousted him, gave Aubin a case of the yips.

"I don't know what to say," a haggard Aubin muttered. "I'm trying to make saves, trying to keep my team in the game and just coming up short every time."

Andrew Raycroft likely will be in net tonight against Ottawa to try to reverse a trend that has seen Toronto drop four of its past five.

Maurice held off criticizing veteran defencemen such as McCabe and Kubina for their penalties, a mounting toll of power-play goals against and other flubs.

"The older guys feel the pressure to do more," Maurice said. "McCabe didn't have puck support on (Staal's goal) which is why he kept bringing it back deeper."

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REPORT CARD

D Forwards: Veteran snipers such as Jeff O'Neill missed too many chances with the game tied.

D Defence: Bryan McCabe saved a goal, but took a late second-period penalty and was stripped on Jordan Staal's clincher.

C- Goaltending: Jean-Sebastien Aubin recovered from a bad first period, but the first two goals were stoppable.


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