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Pittsburgh vs. Toronto Preview

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (3-1-0-6) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (0-2-1-1)

Where: Air Canada Centre
Saturday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()
Notable: The Penguins have undergone drastic changes since the last time these two teams met (Feb. 14 in Toronto). In that last meeting, Pittsburgh let a 2-1 third-period lead slip away as the Maple Leafs scored five unanswered goals for a 6-2 victory.

Pittsburgh’s fate was changed forever the following day when general manager Ray Shero relieved head coach Michel Therrien of his duties and promoted first-time NHL head coach Dan Bylsma. Bylsma instilled an up-tempo, attacking scheme and led the Penguins to an 18-3-4 season finish and their third Stanley Cup championship.




Game Highlights  
AP Recap

Don’t Let Jason Blake Beat You: Long-time Penguin-killer Blake has picked up in Toronto right where he left off on Long Island. In eight games versus the Penguins in a Maple Leafs’ sweater, Blake has recorded seven goals and four assists, including at least one goal in all four contests at the Air Canada Centre. In last season’s Feb. 14  game in Toronto, Blake erased a 2-1 Penguins’ lead after two periods with two goals 19 seconds apart just 1:14 into the third period. If the Penguins manage to keep Blake off the board, their chances of winning improve greatly. 

Avoid Retaliation: Adding players in the ilk of Mike Komisarek, Garnet Exelby and Colton Orr during the offseason means the Maple Leafs will be killing more than their fair share of penalties in 2009-10. That doesn’t bode well for a Toronto squad that killed off only 74.7 percent of their penalties taken last year, despite ranking in the top half of the league in terms of fewest penalties taken. If the Penguins can take advantage of their power-play opportunities it will go a long way in their attempt to change their recent results in Toronto.
Toronto, which last won a Stanley Cup in 1966-67, has missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons, finishing last in the Northeast Division in both 2007-08 and ’08-09. The 293 goals surrendered by the Maple Leafs a season ago were the most in the National Hockey League, and the most given up by Toronto since they allowed 294 in 1991-92, when they also failed to make the playoffs.

Toronto has an experienced bench boss in veteran head coach Ron Wilson, who joined the Maple Leafs prior to the start of last season after spending the previous four-and-a-half seasons in San Jose. Wilson, who preaches an aggressive brand of hockey, will be the head coach for the U.S. Olympic team during the 2010 Vancouver Games. In 16 seasons with the Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks, Wilson has a career record of 552-463-102.
The Maple Leafs signed prized Swedish import Jonas Gustavsson in the offseason. A late bloomer, the 24-year-old Gustavsson led Farjestad to the Swedish Elite League title last season, surrendering only 14 goals in 13 playoff contests. He made his first NHL start Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators, stopping 24 of 26 shots while suffering the tough-luck loss. Unfortunately for the Leafs, Gustavsson was placed on injured reserve Thursday, and will miss the game versus the Penguins.

Toronto general manager Brian Burke also took tremendous steps in the offseason to improve his defense, signing high-profile rearguards Mike Komisarek from the Montreal Canadiens and Francois Beauchemin from Anaheim. Komisarek, the epitome of a stay-at-home defender, packs a heavy punch into his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame. Beauchemin also offers a physical element, although he is also capable of quarterbacking the point on the power play. Garnet Exelby is a third defenseman acquired over the summer, arriving in the deal which sent Pavel Kubina to Atlanta. Exelby’s game is similar to that of Komisarek, albeit on a lesser scale.
Toronto was able to score a respectful 250 goals last season despite the lack of a true No. 1 pivot. That will not change this season as Mikhail Grabovski continues to serve that role for the Leafs. The 25-year-old Grabovski posted 20 goals and 28 assists last season. Grabovski is joined up front by Jason Blake, who is off to a slow start with only an assist through three games, and veteran center Matt Stajan, one of the few Toronto players off to a good start with three goals through three games. Stajan’s 40 assists and 55 points last season were a career high.

The Maple Leafs have a few solid options on the wing who can score when called upon, led by last season’s No. 2 scorer, Alexei Ponikarovsky, who established career highs across the board in goals (23), assists (38) and points (61). With two goals, Ponikarovsky is the only Leaf besides Stajan with multiple tallies thus far. Lee Stempniak is a talented goal scorer who was acquired last season from the St. Louis Blues for Alex Steen. Veteran Niklas Hagman has posted goal totals of 27 and 22 the past two seasons with Dallas and Toronto, respectively.  
Toronto should be much more solid in their own end after the offseason additions of Komisarek, Beauchemin and Exelby, combined with the continued improvement of young Luke Schenn, and a full season from a now-healthy Tomas Kaberle. Schenn played the whole season in Toronto after the Maple Leafs made him the fifth-overall selection of the 2008 NHL Draft. Blessed with great mobility for such a large frame, Schenn has the look of being a true No. 1 defensive stalwart for many years. He can also chip in offensively and makes a good first pass out of the zone.

Kaberle has been one of the better all-around defensemen in the NHL for the better part of this decade, having scored 45 or more points five times in his career, while averaging 24:08 minutes in ice time. Kaberle is a four-time all-star selection. Another mobile defenseman making his mark for the Leafs is Ian White. Although a bit undersized, White has scored 21-or-more points three consecutive seasons, tying his career high with 26 last year, including a career-best 10 goals.
Play between the pipes has been a weak spot for Toronto since the NHL returned from the lockout in 2005-06. Vesa Toskala was acquired from San Jose prior to the 2007-08 campaign, and he was expected to be the No. 1 netminder the Leafs had been searching for. Toskala posted a winning record last season (22-17-11) despite playing behind a young team.

Gustavsson was signed to compete with Toskala, in addition to giving Toronto another option with which to turn to. Gustavsson stopped 26 of 28 shots versus Ottawa in his first start. However, he suffered a groin pull that will sideline him for at least a week. Joey MacDonald, who won only once in four starts against the Penguins last season playing for the New York Islanders, was recalled to backup Toskala.
During his career, Francois Beauchemin bounced from Montreal to Columbus before finally landing a permanent role in Anaheim after the lockout. Steady in all three ends of the ice, Beauchemin was a key contributor to the Ducks’ march to the 2007 Stanley Cup championship. He recorded eight points (4G-4A) in 20 postseason games, averaging a whopping 30:33 minutes of ice time. Beauchemin appeared in only 20 games last season for the Ducks after tearing the ACL in his left knee, but proved his toughness by returning to play in 13 playoff contests.
“We stunk. We had no offense at all. I mean, that was almost embarrassing from seven or eight guys who we are counting heavily on. They only showed up when it was too late (a third-period Matt Stajan power-play goal).”

- Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson airing his frustrations to the Toronto Sun following the team’s 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night.
28: Evgeni Malkin’s career point total against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Malkin has had more success against Toronto than against any other team in the National Hockey League with 28 points (7G-21A) in just 12 games, a whopping 2.33 points per game. Malkin recorded his first career hat trick against Toronto on Jan. 1, 2008 and posted a career-high five assists against the Maple Leafs on Jan. 20, 2007. What’s more, last year he recorded his 200th career point in a game against the Leafs (Oct. 18).

Author: Jason Seidling

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