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Penguins visit Leafs in battle of first-place teams

by Sergei J. Feldman

PENGUINS (8-2-2) at MAPLE LEAFS (6-2-1)


Season Series: This is the first of four meetings between the two Eastern Conference rivals. Both teams went 2-1-1 last season, a series highlighted by a 6-5 Penguins shootout win in which the teams combined for five goals in an eight-minute span before Alex Kovalev got the shootout winner for the Penguins.

Big Story: The Penguins come to Air Canada Centre for a matchup between two division leaders, as the Penguins sit in first place in the Atlantic, while the Maple Leafs occupy the top spot in the Northeast. The Penguins skate into Toronto with a five-game winning streak while the Maple Leafs are 4-0-1 on home ice and are back after splitting a four-game trip.

Team Scope:

Penguins: After a three-game skid in mid-October, the Penguins have found their game and have played their system perfectly while winning five in a row. The wins have come without the services of captain Sidney Crosby (concussion), but Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup this week after dealing with a sore knee and has contributed in the past two games. The Pens are coming off consecutive wins against the New York Islanders in a home-and-home series, which included a 3-0 shutout for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and a come-from-behind 3-2 shootout win in which Malkin scored the deciding goal. The Pens have been the busiest team in the League thus far, having played 12 games in October -- they get a much-needed four-day break prior to a West Coast trip. While the team waits for Crosby to absorb some contact in practice before being ready for game action, coach Dan Bylsma will rely on the services of Malkin, who looks healthy again.

"He's got great moves in practice that he shows off," coach Bylsma said. "I think it's him having a little more swagger, trying some of the moves he does have. He's done it a couple times this year. (Thursday against the Islanders) was just outstanding."

Maple Leafs: The Leafs can expect a raucous welcome from the Air Canada Centre faithful as they return from their first road trip with a one-point lead over Buffalo and a three-point lead over Ottawa in the division.. After losing two out of the first three games on their trip, the Leafs finished on a positive note with an impressive 4-2 win in New York against the Rangers Thursday night, spoiling the Rangers' home opener. The Penguins figure to be a good early-season test.

"That makes you want to play even better you know you have to play good to compete against them," goalie Jonas Gustavsson said. "They don't allow a lot of goals so you have to be ready."

Who's Hot: Malkin has five points in is past five games, as does depth forward Pascal Dupuis for the Penguins. .. The Leafs have been led by Phil Kessel, who is in the midst of a three-game point streak and has seven points in his past five games.

Injury Report: Crosby (concussion) and Tyler Kennedy (concussion) are day-to-day for the Penguins who are also without defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who's out 4-6 weeks with a broken finger. … The Leafs are without the services of goalie James Reimer (neck), who's on IR but could play Sunday in Ottawa, and Colby Armstrong, who is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. Kessel, described as "banged up" by coach Ron Wilson after a collision Thursday night, sat out Friday's practice -- but Wilson expects him to play.

Stat Pack : Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf is tied for third in points among all blueliners with Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. Both have nine points.

Puck Drop: Reimer hasn't played since taking an elbow to the head last Saturday, but the Leafs aren't saying exactly why he's out -- GM Brian Burke denied that it was a concussion but said he's being treated for "concussion-like symptoms." Wilson had no update on his goaltender's condition Friday, but said he expected Reimer to be ready for Sunday's game at Ottawa.

Wilson said he had no update on the injury -- and even if one was forthcoming, "I'm not going to share that with you, whatever it happens to be," he told the media after Friday's practice. "I'm not obligated to do that."

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