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Pittsburgh vs. Toronto Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (17-10-4-38) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (12-13-6-30)
Where: Mellon Arena
When: Saturday, December 20, 7:00 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.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: Pittsburgh leads 1-0-0. The Penguins are 1-0-0 at Mellon Arena with a 4-1 victory Oct. 20. This is the second meeting between the two clubs this year.
Note: In the previous game, Sidney Crosby scored his 100th goal, 200th assist and 300th point, and Evgeni Malkin notched his 200th assist. 
Note II: The Penguins will be wearing their blue third-jersey in the game.
Note III: The game will be broadcast nationally on Hockey Night in Canada.



Pens vs. Maple Leafs 10/18
Game-Day: Talbot
Game-Day: Therrien
Game-Day: Crosby
Game-Day: Fleury
Game-Day: Taffe
Clear the Crease: The Maple Leafs have fired 1,006 shots on goal this season, fifth most in the NHL. Toronto loves to shoot the puck and that will lead to a lot of rebounds. The Penguins must be prepared to clear away those rebounds and limit Toronto’s second opportunities.

Test the Goalies: Toronto’s goaltending tandem have struggled mightily this season. Both Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph are off to sub-par starts. Pittsburgh should exploit Toronto’s current goaltending issue to its advantage. 
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in the midst of a massive rebuilding project. With 12 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.

Wilson has done an admirable job keep the team around the .500 mark despite their novice roster. If the “kids” can take that next big step then the Maple Leafs could sneak into the postseason. Toronto suffered a stinging loss on Thursday at Boston, 8-5, and will look to rebound against Pittsburgh.
Fletcher had a busy offseason. The Maple Leafs have cut ties with Mats Sundin, Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft. Jeff Finger and Mike Van Ryn were brought in to bolster the defense. Veteran forward Niklas Hagman was signed from Dallas. To give Toronto that nasty-attitude element, Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg were added. The two have combined for 80 PIMs this season. Then the Maple Leafs traded away former first-round picks Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo to St. Louis in exchange for Lee Stempniak in late November.
The most daunting task in Toronto is finding someone to score. The loss of Mats Sundin left 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). He’s once again second on the team with 23 points (12G-11A) through 31 games. Matt Stajan has improved his production every season and currently tops the Leafs with 24 points (7G-17A).

Rookie Nikolai Kulemin saw action on the team’s top line with Antropov and Stajan. He’s a 22-year-old forward from Magnitogorsk, Russia that scouts are raving about. Alexei Ponikarovsky (21 points), Niklas Hagman (19) and Mikhail Grabovski (20) all have chipped in for the Leafs this season. Toronto traded for youngster Lee Stempniak from St. Louis in November. The 25-year old has 18 points in 25 games this year.
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. However, the Leafs are currently allowing 3.39 goals per game this year. 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 rating of minus-(-8). He tops all Leafs’ defensemen in points this year with 20, but was recently benched and rumors are swirling that is days in Toronto are coming to an end.

The team added Jeff Finger in free agency and former Panther Mike Van Ryn. Van Ryn was one of the team’s best defenseman but he suffered his second concussion in three weeks on Thursday and his return is unknown. 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. Schenn logs a ton of ice time and is the team’s best defensive defenseman but is sidelined with a knee injury.
Toronto hasn’t gotten much help from its goaltending tandem this year. Vesa Toskala is currently the Leafs starter. 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 (110-63-21). He’s a quality backstop who posted a career-high 33 wins last year in his first opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie but is off to a rough start this year. His goals against average is over three (3.11) and his save percentage is below the .900 mark (.887).

The Maple Leafs brought back former Leaf Curtis Joseph as a backup. Joseph also hasn’t looked like his normal self with a bloated 4.33 goals against average and a paltry .838 save percentage. Help could be on the way with top goaltending prospect Justin Pogge. He is honing his craft in the AHL but may get a look before the season is over.
Nik Antropov has great size at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds. He’s a strong skater and it’s difficult to knock him off of the puck. Mats Sundin’s departure has placed a heavy burden on Antropov. He has lived in Sundin’s shadow for his entire eight-year career. Now, the 28-year-old Kazakh is expected to shoulder the offensive burden and emerge as a team leader. Antropov has been named an alternate captain - Toronto currently has no captain - and is second on the team with 23 point on 12 goals and 11 assists. He had his best season last year with career highs in goals (26), assists (30), points (56) and power-play goals (12). It was also his healthiest season (72 games played) in five years.
“We have to be ready. They’ve got some young guys. They work hard every night. I’m sure they’ll want to bounce back.”
- Marc-Andre Fleury
14: The number of points Evgeni Malkin has accumulated on his current seven-game scoring streak. Malkin has netted four goals and 10 assists during that stretch. 

Author: Sam Kasan

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