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Pittsburgh vs. Toronto Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (2-1-1-5) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (1-1-2-4)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Saturday, October 18, 7:08 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*Check HD schedule and television
Note: The “Trib Total Media Penguins Faceoff Festival 2008” will be held outside on Mario Lemieux place, starting at 5 p.m. It’s the final chance for fans without tickets to enjoy the festivities and watch the game on a 9’ x 12’ LED screen that will be set up outside the arena.
Note II: The Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate “Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night.” Each NHL designated a home game in October to promote the fight against cancer. Wives and girlfriends of players and coaches will distribute cancer awareness ribbon pins to the first 3,000 ladies entering the gates 1, 3 and 10. The American Cancer Society will have an information table in the arena concourse.
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Dupuis-Crosby-Malkin
Fedotenko-Staal-Sykora
Kennedy-Talbot-Satan
Bissonnette-Zigomanis-Godard

Defense
Orpik-Letang
Gill-Scuderi
Eaton-Goligoski

Goalkeeper
Fleury
  Live Pregame Show
Therrien 10/18
Crosby 10/18
Trib Minute 10/18
Morning Skate 10/18
Therrien 10/17
Crosby 10/17
Dupuis 10/17
Staal 10/17
Bissonnette 10/17
Pens vs Leafs 9/26
 
KEYS TO VICTORY
Score 5-on-5: Head coach Michel Therrien altered the top three lines in an attempt to generate more even-strength offensive production. The Penguins only five-on-five goal in the last four games was scored by the Mike Zigomanis on the fourth line. Pittsburgh can't win games scoring only power-play goals and Therrien is looking for a quick injection of life.

Jell quickly: By now the Penguins are used to Therrien's constant restructuring of lines. They all know the system. The adjustment consists of learning new linemates' tendencies and style. The quicker they mesh together, the sooner the success.

Hold onto the Lead: The Penguins have blown a lead the last three games. First, they lost a 1-0 lead against New Jersey with less than three minutes left in the game. Then, a 2-0 lead vanished within a minute against the Flyers. The latest setback was a 3-0 advantage against Washington that transformed into a 4-3 loss. The Penguins need to fix that problem before they find themselves in a deep hole.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE MAPLE LEAFS
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in the midst of a massive rebuilding project. With 11 players 25-years-old or younger, general manager Cliff Fletcher and head coach Ron Wilson are not hiding the fact that it may be a couple years before this team becomes an NHL contender. The team has been on the decline, missing the playoffs the last three seasons, which is the longest postseason drought for Toronto in 80 years. Fletcher rejoined the Leafs in January and hired Wilson to oversee the turnaround of one of the NHL’s proudest franchises. Wilson is familiar with the growing pains of a young team – see his stops in Anaheim and San Jose – but the fans in Toronto can be less forgiving and impatient. There will be a lot of pressure on Wilson and Fletcher to turn this team around and preferably sooner rather than later.

The team got off to a good start by ruining Detroit’s home opener. The Red Wings celebrated their Stanley Cup-banner rising with a 3-2 loss to the Leafs. On Friday night, Toronto shut out a hot New York Rangers team, before falling in a shootout. If the “kids” can take that next big step then the Maple Leafs could sneak into the postseason. More likely though will be a fourth straight season ending in early April.
 
FORWARDS
The most daunting task in Toronto will be finding someone to score. The loss of Mats Sundin to his current limbo status leaves no real first-rate scorer on Toronto’s roster. Former first-round-pick Nik Antropov was second on the team in scoring last season with career highs in goals (26) and points (56). The 28-year-old will shoulder the burden of scoring in Sundin’s absence. Youngsters Matt Stajan and Alex Steen have improved every year and first-round-pick Jiri Tlusty will have a larger role this season. And keep an eye on Nikolai Kulemin, a 22-year-old forward from Magnitogorsk, Russia. The scouts are raving about this kid. The team’s ability to score will depend on how quickly their young players progress.
 
DEFENSE
Last season, the Leafs gave up 3.12 goals per game to rank 27th in the league. Wilson has always stressed defense to his teams and Toronto has an abundance of NHL-worthy defensemen. Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina are the top tandem on the team. Kaberle posted 53 points on eight goals and 45 assists to finish third on the Maples Leafs in scoring last season, but finished with a plus-minus of minus-(-8). The team added Jeff Finger in free agency and former Panther Mike Van Ryn. The most promising blue liners on Toronto are 22-year-old Anton Stralman and 18-year-old Luke Schenn. Toronto traded up in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft to grab Schenn at No. 5. He made the roster out of camp and has tremendous upside.
 
GOALTENDING
Vesa Toskala is a bright spot in the Maple Leafs lineup. Wilson coached the 31-year-old goalkeeper at San Jose. He boasts a nearly 2-to-1 margin in wins and losses in his career (99-54-12). He’s a quality backstop who posted a career-high 33 wins last year in his first opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie. The Maple Leafs brought back Curtis Joseph as a backup. The Penguins may face CuJo since Toskala played against the Rangers on Friday night. Goaltending prospect Justin Pogge will play continue to hone his craft in the AHL until he’s ready to take the reigns.
 
NEW FACES
Fletcher had a busy offseason. The Maple Leafs cut ties with Sundin, Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft. Finger and Van Ryn were brought in to help on defense. Forwards Niklas Hagman and Mikhail Grabovski signed with the Maple Leafs. To give Toronto that nasty-attitude element, Fletcher inked Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg. In four games this season the two have combined for 27 penalty minutes. The Penguins won't have to worry about Hollweg, who is serving a three-game suspension for a boarding penalty against St. Louis.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: LUKE SCHENN
Schenn was Toronto’s first-round pick (No. 5 overall) this past June. The 18-year-old is a bruising defenseman that earned a spot on the team’s roster. Toronto gave up a second- and third-round pick to the N.Y. Islanders to move up two slots to grab the 6-foot-2, 220-pound rookie. He has drawn comparisons to Adam Foote for his physical play and rugged style.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
“I don’t think there can be more mistakes than we made last year.”
- Vesa Toskala told NHL.com
 
HIDDEN STAT
19: The number of points Sidney Crosby has compiled in 12 career games against the Maple Leafs. Crosby has posted six goals and 13 assists against Toronto.
 

Author: Sam Kasan
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