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'Strange' for Kessel to face Maple Leafs with Penguins

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com

MAPLE LEAFS (1-2-1) at PENGUINS (1-3-0)

TV: CITY, ROOT

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins experimented with their lines at the morning skate, but more of the same should be expected Saturday when they play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Consol Energy Center.

Pittsburgh loaded its first line with Evgeni Malkin at left wing joining center Sidney Crosby and right wing Phil Kessel, who will face the Maple Leafs for the first time since an offseason trade.

"I've played against a bunch of those guys before," Kessel said. "I have good friends over there and it's going to be strange, but I'm looking forward to it."

Crosby and Kessel have been paired in each of the Penguins' four games this season with mixed results. Kessel is tied for the Pittsburgh lead with two points and one goal, but Crosby has yet to score a point and is on the verge of matching his longest NHL drought of five consecutive scoreless games.

Crosby said he isn't concerned with a lack of chemistry.

"I think it's pretty typical," Crosby said. "The last couple years, we've had a lot of change with a lot of different guys. I think you just try to communicate and try to get on the same page as far as the structure of the team and as a line, how we want to play."

Chris Kunitz moved down to the second line with center Nick Bonino and rookie right wing Daniel Sprong, while Sergei Plotnikov, Matt Cullen and Bryan Rust formed a third line.

It isn't clear what to make of those lines, but it is doubtful they'll be used to begin the game.

"We have just too many new combinations," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "Too many new combinations of defense pairs and forward lines. Every forward line is different. I haven't looked around the League to see if other teams are facing similar situations, but it does take some time for that chemistry to develop. We're still trying to settle in to the exact defense pairs that we really like.

"The forward lines are starting to form themselves."

The one confirmed change to the Penguins lineup will be defenseman Rob Scuderi's return in place of Adam Clendening. Johnston was impressed with Clendening's performance, alongside Olli Maatta, in his first game with the Penguins, a 2-0 win Thursday against the Ottawa Senators, but values Scuderi too much to hold him out of the lineup.

"We know what we get with Rob," Johnston said. "He's a great penalty killer. He's a real stable veteran influence on the group."

The Maple Leafs did not skate Saturday morning following their 6-3 win Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Any update on forward Tyler Bozak, who sustained a lower-body injury against Columbus, will not be provided until later Saturday.

All eyes will be on Kessel when he faces his former team. Maple Leafs forwards Nick Spaling and Daniel Winnik, and defenseman Scott Harrington, will share a similar experience when they face the Penguins for the first time since being traded or leaving via free agency, if they're in Toronto's lineup.

Here are the projected lineups:

MAPLE LEAFS

James van RiemsdykTyler BozakLeo Komarov

Shawn MatthiasNazem KadriBrad Boyes

Michael GrabnerPeter HollandPA Parenteau

Daniel WinnikNick SpalingJoffrey Lupul

Jake GardinerDion Phaneuf

Morgan RiellyMatt Hunwick

Roman PolakScott Harrington

Jonathan Bernier

James Reimer

Injured: Stephane Robidas (lower body)

Scratched: Mark Arcobello, Frank Corrado, Martin Marincin

PENGUINS

Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyPhil Kessel

David PerronEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Kevin PorterNick BoninoDaniel Sprong

Bobby FarnhamMatt CullenKevin Porter

Ian ColeKris Letang

Olli MaattaBen Lovejoy

Brian DumoulinRob Scuderi

Marc-Andre Fleury

Jeff Zatkoff

Injured: Pascal Dupuis (lower body), Eric Fehr (elbow), Beau Bennett (undisclosed)

Scratched: Tim Erixon, Bryan Rust

Status report: Pittsburgh recalled Erixon, two days after assigning him to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. … Bennett, whose condition has not been updated, is listed on injured reserve. Johnston said an update could come in the next few days.

Who's hot: Malkin scored his first goal of the season against Ottawa, and is tied for the Penguins lead with two points and one goal, with Kessel and Letang in each category. … Winnik tied his NHL career high with three points, all assists, against Columbus. He is tied with Phaneuf for the Maple Leafs lead with four points.

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