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Pittsburgh vs. Toronto Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (26-11-1-53) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (13-17-9-35)
Where: Mellon Arena

Sunday, December 27, 7 p.m.
Radio: 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()

Season Series:
The Penguins and Maple Leafs square off for the second time in 2009-10 and the first matchup at Mellon Arena. Pittsburgh used three power-play goals to register a 5-2 victory Oct. 10 at Air Canada Centre. Sidney Crosby scored twice, Evgeni Malkin had three assists and Sergei Gonchar netted a goal and an assist. Marc-Andre Fleury made 18 saves in goal to get the win.




Last Meeting: Oct. 10, 2009
  PIT 5 - TOR 2
Game Highlights
AP Recap
Power Play: The Penguins’ power play had a breakout performance on Wednesday night against the Senators with a 3-for-8 showing. They should feel good about their chances to continue such success with the Toronto Maple Leafs coming to town. Toronto boasts the league’s worst penalty-killing unit heading into Saturday at 72.3 percent and the Penguins tallied three scores on the man-advantage in their win on Oct. 10.

Avoid the Holiday Hangover:
Players don’t mind the usual day off or two here and there but the Penguins will enter Sunday’s game having last played on Wednesday thanks to the Christmas Break. Having only one day on skates before hosting the Leafs could allow the Penguins to get off to a sluggish start. Toronto plays the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday so they will have a head start getting their feet under them. The Penguins will look to a raucous home crowd to give them an energy boost early.
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 allowed in the National Hockey League, and the most given up by Toronto since they gave up 294 in 1991-92, when they also failed to make the playoffs. After a slow start to this season with a 0-7-1 record the Leafs have gone 13-10-7 over their last 30 hockey games to move within five points of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

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, Sharks, Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks, Wilson has a career record of 552-463-102.
A megadeal in the preseason netted young superstar Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins. Kessel gives the Leafs a potential face of the franchise for the first time since the departure of Mats Sundin prior to the 2008-09 season. Toronto was not happy after allowing a league-worst 293 goals in ’08-09 so the Maple Leafs went out and signed prized Swedish import Jonas Gustavsson to provide competition for Vesa Toskala. 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 has taken over the top netminding chores and has posted a 7-6-6 record in 20 games.

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 much lesser scale.
A huge reason the Maple Leafs have gotten back into the playoff picture is a high-powered offense which ranks fourth in the Eastern Conference with 107 goals heading into Saturday’s games. A couple of talented centers, Mikhail Grabovski and Matt Stajan, have stepped up their game and given the Leafs solid production down the middle. Stajan leads all Toronto forwards with 28 points (11G-17A) in 37 games. The 25-year-old Grabovski, who posted 20 goals and 28 assists last season, is tied for second on the team with 17 assists in 38 games. He has added seven goals. Jason Blake hasn’t lit the lamp like we have grown accustomed to seeing with only seven goals through Saturday but he has long been a Penguins killer and is someone Pittsburgh has to watch, particularly when the Maple Leafs go on the power play.

Veteran Niklas Hagman, who has posted 49 goals the previous two seasons, continues to slip under the radar as a solid point producer as he has a team-leading 16 tallies. His 26 points ranks third on the team. 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). Ponikarovsky is tied for second on the team with 13 scores through Saturday. Lee Stempniak is a talented goal scorer who was acquired last season from the St. Louis Blues for Alex Steen, although Stempniak’s numbers dipped in Toronto, dropping from .93 points-per-game in St. Louis to only .51 in 61 games with the Leafs. Stempniak has 18 points (9G-9A) in 38 games.  
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. His ice time is down this season and he has only four assists in 35 games but Schenn is still one of the most highly-regarded young blueliners in the game.

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 in ice time. Healthy this season, Kaberle is off to the best start of his career as he leads both the Maple Leafs and all NHL defensemen with 31 assists and 34 points heading into Saturday. GM Brian Burke has to be ecstatic he didn’t include Kaberle in his efforts to acquire Phil Kessel over the summer. 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. He ranks second (tied) among Maple Leafs defensemen with 18 points (6G-12A) while his plus-6 rating leads the team.
Toronto has struggled to get consistent goaltending since the end of the lockout but they think they have found the solution in Jonas Gustavsson. The Swedish import has overcome a couple health issues to take over the No. 1 spot between the crease. Nicknamed “Monster,” Gustavsson leads the Maple Leafs in every statistical category with seven wins, a 2.81 goals-against average, a .906 save percentage and one shutout. He did not play in the first meeting with Pittsburgh.

Vesa Toskala has not had the same success in Toronto he had with his previous employer, the San Jose Sharks. Toskala once again opened this season as the top goaltender for the Maple Leafs but he has since ceded that spot to Gustavsson. He has a 5-7-2 record, 3.81 goals-against average and a .869 save percentage.
In an effort to provide a boost to his offense general manager Brian Burke pulled off a potential coup during the preseason when he acquired 22-year-old sniper Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins in exchange for a pair of first-round draft picks. Boston did not have the room under the salary cap to meet Kessel’s demands after a 36-goal campaign last season.

Kessel sat out the first 12 games of the 2009-10 season after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. His return helped spark the dramatic turnaround in the Leafs season as his 13 goals are second-most (tied) on the team, as are his 116 shots. Team USA will be counting on Kessel to provide secondary scoring during the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Toronto has a couple issues on the medical front, including one season-ending injury
- Defenseman Mike Van Ryn’s season is over because of a knee injury.
- Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson will be out until sometime shortly after New Year’s with an elbow injury.
- Center John Mitchell has a knee injury which will keep him on the shelf until January.
- Winger Viktor Stalberg is day-to-day with a shoulder problem.
“We never really got our forechecking going until the last couple of minutes of the second period … We just weren’t good enough. We didn’t compete hard enough on our forecheck until it was too late.”

- Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson speaking to the Maple Leafs official team website after a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

27: Toronto has allowed the opposition to score first in 27 of their first 38 games. The Penguins are 15-2 in 2009-10 when they net the opening goal while the Maple Leafs are 5-16-6 when they give up the first goal.
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Author: Jason Seidling

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