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Getting ready for Super Mario

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Tony Care

The Leafs host Mario Lemieux and his Penguins on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre. This will be Lemieux's first-ever visit to Toronto's new arena as he retired at the end of the 1997 season.

The Leafs got a sample of Lemieux's play last season and it left them with a bitter taste. Lemieux targeted Dec. 27, 2000 as his date to come out of retirement and it was against Toronto. The result was just too much Mario and the now departed Jaromir Jagr. Lemieux had a goal and two assists as the fans erupted in cheers throughout that magical night.

Much like he's done to most teams. Lemieux has had great success at Toronto's expense. In his illustrious career, Super Mario has 28 goals, 37 assists and 65 points in 29 games against the Leafs.

Lemieux however has gotten off to a slow start this season. While his seven points in seven games would be sufficient for an average player, his standards are judged on a different level. So far, Lemieux has only scored one goal and he has only two multi-point games.

Lemieux's struggle can in large part be attributed to his hip flexor injury that he suffered in preseason. The injury has caused him to miss two games and it's clearly affected his play.

The Penguins have also gone through major changes through the offseason and into the year. In the summer, Pens GM Craig Patrick traded Jagr to Washington for three prospects, but none that are considered impact players although Kris Beech is playing with the big club.

After the first four games, the Penguins were 0-4 so Patrick, with Lemieux's blessing, fired coach Ivan Hlinka and replaced him with Rick Kehoe. The move has paid off as the Penguins have won four of their last five outings.

The Leafs come into Saturday's game with a 5-4-1-1 record but know that their goaltending situation is in good hands. That's because Corey Schwab, seeing his first game action of the year, played superbly against Boston on Thursday night.

Though the Leafs lost the game 2-1 in overtime, Schwab stopped 30 of 32 shots and he looks to be a good fit as Curtis Joseph's backup. Joseph is coming off a great game himself as he shutout the Bruins 2-0 in Tuesday's game at Air Canada Centre.

This game has the potential to be a high-scoring affair with the talent that will be assembled here on Saturday though the power plays don't reflect it. Both teams sport ranked in the bottom half of the league when they have the man advantage. The Leafs have scored just six goals on 55 chances, 10.9%, which ranks 23rd, while Pittsburgh is tied for 27th with at 9.1%.
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