by John McCauley
It looks as though the Toronto Maple Leafs will get a break tomorrow night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mario Lemieux will not be in the lineup.
Still suffering from a sore right hip the superstar didn't make the trip to Toronto no matter how badly his team needs him. The Pens are also missing Martin Straka (broken leg) and a quite a few players are just getting over the flu.
"They've done very well hanging in despite some of the changes they've had to make," Leafs' coach Pat Quinn said after practice on Monday. "They're still a very competitive team, and they've got some good skill."
|Lemieux won't be in the lineup Tuesday night against the Leafs.|
Pittsburgh is riding a three-game losing streak and has just two goals in its last three road games. Compound that with a power play that ranks last in the league and things have been rough for the young squad.
The Leafs could have some injury trouble of their own. Mikael Renberg didn't finish practice Monday morning after taking a slash on the ankle. He hasn't been ruled out as an option but will probably be a game-time decision.
A key for both teams will be if either can establish their poor power plays.
The Pittsburgh power play is clicking at just 8.2 per cent (9 for 110). The Penguins are the only team in the league not to have double-digits in power play goals. It gets a little better on the road, ranking 23rd at 8.3 per cent (4 for 48) but they haven't scored in their last 11 tries away from the Igloo.
Toronto is tied for 21st with the man advantage, connecting 12.3 per cent of the time (13 for 107) but improve some at home, ranking 15th in the league.
It's safe to say something has to give if either or both get into penalty trouble. Mogilny came out in the press last week saying he felt the Leafs didn't practice the power play enough and that's why it hasn't been that effective.
Quinn responded after Saturday night's game by saying that the team only practices the power play about once a week but they work on skill-building drills designed to improve the power play.
"We do practice it ... once a week or so, maybe, but we do drills, so you work on the little things, you work on the skills that you take to the power play ... but because it's not all power play, maybe I haven't communicated it so well to the players. But we will practice it more,'' Quinn said.
If the Leafs hope to avenge their 3-1 loss to the Pens in Pittsburgh on November 1, it's clear their power play must improve to come up with two points.NOTES:
The Penguins are 12-7-0 against the Leafs over the past six seasons, and 4-5-0 at Toronto during that time. The last Pittsburgh victory on foreign ground in this series came on Apr. 5, 2000 ... Maple Leafs forward Garry Valk played for the Penguins during the 1997-98 season, posting 10 points in 56 games. He recorded the OT, series-clinching goal over the Penguins in the 1999 playoffs.