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Pittsburgh vs. Toronto Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins



THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (24-21-5-53) at Toronto Maple Leafs (18-23-8-44)

Where: Air Canada Center
When: Saturday, January 31, 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 is 1-1-0 against the Maple Leafs this season with both games played at Mellon Arena. Pittsburgh makes its first trip to Toronto this season.
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Cooke-Crosby-Malkin
Dupuis-Staal-Sykora
Kennedy-Talbot-Satan
Godard-Thomas-Goligoski
(Minard?)

Defense
Orpik-Whitney
Eaton-Letang
Scuderi-Gill

Netminder
Garon


Pens vs. Maple Leafs 12/20
  
 
KEYS TO VICTORY
Clear the Crease: The Maple Leafs are averaging 31.6 shots on goal per game, sevent 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. The Maple Leafs killed the Penguins in this area in their 7-3 win at Mellon Arena in the teams' previous meeting.

Test the Goalies: Toronto’s goaltending tandem have struggled mightily this season. Both Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph are having sub-par seasons. Toskala has a 3.31 goals against average and a .884 save percentage. Joseph has one win in his 11 games played this season, while compiling a 3.89 GAA and .850 save percentage. Pittsburgh should exploit Toronto’s current goaltending issue to its advantage. 
 
LOWDOWN ON THE 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.

Work ethic is a staple of Wilson-coached teams and Toronto is no different. Wilson has done an admirable job of keeping the Maple Leafs competitive in every game, even if the results aren’t always there. January has been a particularly painful month for the Toronto faithful. The team has won only three games in the entire month (3-7-2) but should be motivated to put on a good performance for the national audience.
 
NEW FACES
Fletcher had a busy offseason. The Maple Leafs 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 85 PIMs this season. 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.
 
FORWARDS
The most daunting task in Toronto is finding someone to score. 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 leading the team with 36 points (14G-22A) through 49 games. He snapped a 16-game score-less streak Thursday and admits to being mentally exhausted over trade rumors. Jason Blake, a Penguin killer, is second on the Leafs with 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points. Matt Stajan has improved his production every season and has 33 points (11G-22A).

Rookie Nikolai Kulemin saw action on the team’s top line with Mikhail Grabovski and Antropov. He’s a 22-year-old forward from Magnitogorsk, Russia. Scouts raved about Kulemin’s potential. He has seven goals and nine assists for 16 points. Alexei Ponikarovsky (32 points), Niklas Hagman (26) and Grabovski (26) all have chipped in for the Leafs this season. Toronto traded for youngster Lee Stempniak from St. Louis. The 25-year old has 25 points in 43 games this year.
 
DEFENSEMEN
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 3.53 goals per game this year - second most in the league. Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina is 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). He tops all Leafs’ defensemen in points this year with 30, but 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 and recently returned from his second concussion of the season. The most promising blue liners on Toronto’s roster are 22-year-old Anton Stralman and 19-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.
 
GOALTENDING
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 netminder at San Jose. He’s posted a career record of 114-70-5-18. He 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. His goals against average is well over three (3.31) and his save percentage is far below the .900 mark (.884).

The Maple Leafs brought back former Leaf Curtis Joseph as a backup. Joseph also hasn’t looked like his normal self with a bloated 3.89 goals against average and a paltry .850 save percentage. Help could be on the way with top goaltending prospect Justin Pogge. He is honing his craft in the AHL and has made two appearances for Toronto this season. Pogge should get an extended look at some point this season.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: JASON BLAKE
Jason Blake has been a Penguin killer in his NHL career. The 35-year-old forward has tallied 43 points on 21 goals and 22 assists in 44 games against Pittsburgh. Blake has seen a lot of action against the Penguins during his tenure with the New York Islanders.

Blake went undrafted and broke into the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings in 1999. But his career really blossomed on Long Island. His best season was the 2006-07 campaign when he netted 40 goals and 29 assists for 69 points. The nine-year veteran is in his second season in Toronto after signing as a free agent in 2007. He posted 52 points (15G-37A) in his first campaign with the Leafs. On the current season, Blake has posted a team-best 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points in 45 games.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
“It’s probably in the back of my mind. But it’s not in my control. That’s up to (general manager) Brian Burke.”
- Nik Antropov on possibly being traded, Yahoo! Sports

 
POINT OF INTEREST
Toronto will retire Doug Gilmore’s No. 93 jersey prior to the game, the 15th Maple Leaf player to have that honor.
 


Author: Sam Kasan

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