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Struggling Penguins visit reeling Leafs

by John Kreiser

PENGUINS (27-17-1) at MAPLE LEAFS (15-21-9)

Last 10 -- Pittsburgh 3-7-0; Toronto 3-5-2

Season series - It's the third meeting of the season between the teams, who've split the first two - with the road team winning both times. Pittsburgh whacked the Leafs 5-2 at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 10, while the Leafs used a late goal by Ian White to beat the Penguins 4-3 at Mellon Arena on Dec. 27. Toronto has won four of the last five meetings.

Big story - The Penguins' quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champs has hit a few potholes. Pittsburgh has dropped seven of its last nine, including a 7-4 home loss to Philadelphia on Thursday, and is starting a five-game trip that will take the Pens to Western Canada next weekend.

A game against the Leafs might be a good place to start putting things back together. Toronto has lost four of five since the win over the Penguins in Pittsburgh and is also coming off 3-2 loss at Buffalo on Friday in which they got 50 shots on goal but allowed the Sabres to score on all three of their power plays.

Team Scope:

Penguins - With a 3-7-0 record in their last 10 games, heading out for a five-game trip might not be the worst thing in the world. The Penguins can use the time to bond -- and try to work on some of the mistakes that sank them in the 7-4 debacle against Philadelphia.

"Anytime you go on the road … You kind of really get back to basics and everyone's together," captain Sidney Crosby said. "You get that team feeling. So, it's probably a good time for us.

"We know it's going to be a tough trip. We've had a few of these over the past couple of years and had success, so we have to do the same thing here."

Maple Leafs - The Leafs have lapsed back after a stretch of good hockey that had their fans dreaming of the playoffs. The biggest culprit is the penalty-killing, which is last in the NHL at an almost-unheard-of 68.4 percent.

"Special teams, right now, that's all we talk about before the game," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said after the loss in Buffalo, a game in which his power play also went 0-for-4. "I think we're a little bit psyched out."

Who's hot - Crosby has 3 goals in Pittsburgh's last three games. Jordan Staal is 2-3-5 in his last four games. … Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala is 5-1-0 with a 2.71 goals-against average in his last seven starts at Air Canada Centre.

Injury report - The Penguins are still without top defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who's out with a foot injury. Forward Chris Kunitz (abdominal surgery) will be out for at least a month. … The Leafs have several long-term injuries but hope to get defenseman Mike Komisarek (upper body) back for this game.

Stat pack - Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, who's struggled to find the back of the net, loves to play the Leafs. He has 5 goals and 11 assists in a seven-game points streak against Toronto. Crosby, who leads the Penguins with 26 goals and 51 points, has 11 goals and 17 assists in 18 career games against the Maple Leafs.… Toronto, which is 3-for-37 on the power play in its last 11 games, has killed just 42.9 percent (9 of 21) of opponents' man-advantage opportunities in the last seven games.

Puck drop - Both teams are in a funk. The Penguins need to get back on the right track if they have any hope of winning the Atlantic Division title; the Leafs want to avoid a freefall that will take them out of playoff contention.

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