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Pittsburgh vs. Toronto Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (27-17-1-55) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (15-21-9-39)
Where: Air Canada Centre

When:
Saturday, January 9, 7 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, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
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View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
The Penguins and Maple Leafs meet for the second time in 13 days and for the final time at the Air Canada Centre this season. Thus far each team has posted a victory on the other’s home ice. Pittsburgh used three power-play goals to register a 5-2 victory in Toronto on Oct. 10. 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. Toronto responded by besting the Penguins, 4-3, in Pittsburgh on Dec. 27 behind an Ian White score with 1:22 remaining in regulation. In that game the Maple Leafs held leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, but Pittsburgh came back to tie the score each time, including a Mike Rupp tally 53 seconds before the White goal.

 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Dupuis-Crosby-Guerin
Caputi-Malkin-Rupp
Cooke-Staal-Kennedy
Talbot-Adams-Godard

Defense
Letang-Orpik
Eaton-Goligoski
McKee-Skoula

Netminder
Fleury


Last Meeting: Dec. 27, 2009
  TOR 4 - PIT 3 
Game Highlights
AP Recap
 
KEY TO VICTORY
Mark the Points: Preventing opponents’ defenders from contributing to the offense has been a weak spot for the Penguins in recent games. Matt Carle and Chris Pronger netted two of the Flyers’ seven tallies on Thursday. Toronto boasts three high-scoring blueliners in Tomas Kaberle, Ian White and Francois Beauchemin whom the Penguins have to be aware. White and Luke Schenn scored for the Leafs in their 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh on Dec. 27.

Simplify Their Game:
When teams have trouble finding the win column they usually talk about how it is imperative to play a simple game. For the Penguins, this means doing a better job staying with their man both off the rush and in the D-zone, keeping pucks moving north along the boards away from the middle of the ice, eliminating turnovers at both blue lines and getting the puck behind the opposition’s defense. If they take care of these areas, the goals and wins will become a byproduct of their work.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE MAPLE LEAFS
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 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 15-12-7 over their last 34 hockey games. In their past eight games they are 2-4-2 heading into Friday, with one of those wins a 4-3 decision over the Penguins on Dec. 27.

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 554-465-102.
 
NEW FACES
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 in goal. 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 an 8-8-7 record in 24 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.
 
FORWARDS
Toronto might have a lot of trouble keep pucks out of the back of their own net but they have inched closer to a playoff spot thanks to an offense capable of putting the rubber into the other team’s net, too. A big reason for this success is the play of Phil Kessel. One of the top snipers in the game, Kessel is not afraid to fire the puck from anywhere, and his arrival has seen the rest of the Leafs following his lead in that department. In 32 games the U.S. Olympian has put up 22 points (14G-8A) for Toronto, with his goal total ranking third on the team.

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 32 points (11G-21A) in 37 games. He will be counted on to provide even more production now that Grabovski is out until February with a broken wrist. Even though he has missed the past couple games with that broken wrist, Grabovski ranks third on the team with 18 assists and his 25 points are tied for fifth-best. Jason Blake hasn’t lit the lamp like we have grown accustomed to seeing with 10 goals through 44 games, but he has picked up the pace recently with four goals over his past nine games, including a tally against the Penguins on Dec. 27. In 48 career games against the Penguins, Blake has 48 points (25G-23A).

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, although he has failed to score in his past six games heading into Friday night. His 27 points rank 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 second on the team with 15 scores through Friday. A streaky performer, the 6-foot-4 Ponikarovsky has four points (2G-2A) over his past six games, which was preceded by zero points in the five games before that.

Lee Stempniak is a talented goal scorer who was acquired last season from the St. Louis Blues for Alex Steen. Stempniak has 23 points (11G-12A) in 44 games and posted a three-point night (1G-2A) against the Penguins in the last meeting. Up-and-coming Russian Nikolai Kulemin has added 14 points (7G-7A) in 40 games after posting 15 goals and 16 assists in 73 games as a rookie last season. He has points in two straight games (1G-1A) heading into Friday’s game.   
 
DEFENSEMEN
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. Komisarek was named to the United States Olympic squad last week and should combine with the Penguins Brooks Orpik to offer an intimidated, defense-minded presence to match wits with other nation’s top scorers. In 34 games Komisark has four assists and has posted a minus-9 rating. As great a player and as durable as Kaberle is, Beauchemin actually leads the Leafs in ice time at 25:17 per contest. He has contributed 19 points (4G-15A) in 44 games.

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 five points (1G-4A) in 41 games but Schenn is still one of the most highly-regarded young blueliners in the game and has been much better as of late. His lone goal came against the Penguins back on Dec. 27.

Kaberle (See Player Spotlight below) has been Toronto’s best player with a team-leading 38 points (4G-34A) through Friday. His 34 assists are sixth-best in the NHL while his 38 points are third-highest among defensemen. Against the Penguins this season he has one assist and a minus-2 rating in two games. Another mobile defenseman making his mark for the Leafs is Ian White. Although a bit undersized, White has scored 21-or-more points for four consecutive seasons now and with 22 points (8G-14A), he is only four points away from tying his career high of 26 set last year when he also added a career-best 10 goals. White, who leads the Leafs with a plus-7 rating, registered the game-winning goal against the Penguins on Dec. 27 with 1:22 remaining in regulation and also added an assist.
 
GOALTENDING
Last season the Maple Leafs ranked last in the NHL with a 3.57 goals-against average and they are hovering around the basement again this season as they have surrender an average of 3.39 goals per game – second worst to only the Carolina Hurricanes. They have pinned their future in goal on offseason signee Jonas Gustavsson, who they believe will one day develop into a top-flight goalkeeper at this level. The Swedish import has overcome a couple health issues to take over the No. 1 spot in the crease. Nicknamed “Monster”, Gustavsson leads the Maple Leafs in every statistical category with eight wins, a 2.93 goals-against average, a .904 save percentage and one shutout. He has not faced the Penguins in either meeting.

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 6-8-2 record, 3.72 goals-against average and a .869 save percentage. He is 1-1 this season against the Penguins.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: TOMAS KABERLE
Tomas Kaberle might have recently descended to third on the scoring chart among defensemen but with 38 points (4G-34A) through his first 44 games the Czech Republic native is the only defenseman in the NHL to lead his team in scoring heading into Friday night. Kaberle has been remarkably consistent while racking up his huge point total by going two-or-more games without a point only three times, with his longest drought being only three games.

Kaberle might be drawing more attention for his outstanding play this season because of his rank among the scoring leaders but he has been among the league’s top overall defenders since first breaking into the league in 1998-99. He has above-average size for a defender at 6-foot-1, 214 pounds but plays more of a positional game. Kaberle has a great stick defensively, is tough to beat one-on-one and makes a great outlet pass in transition.
 
INJURY UPDATE
The Maple Leafs continue to have a lengthy injury list as they get set to host the Penguins.
- Defenseman Mike Van Ryn’s season is over because of a knee injury.
- Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson hopes to return next week from an elbow injury.
- Mike Komisarek missed the Philadelphia game on Wednesday with an upper-body injury but is expected back against either Buffalo on Friday or the Penguins on Saturday.
- Center Mikhail Grabovski will be on the shelf until the first week of February with a broken wrist.
- Former Penguin Wayne Primeau is expected to be out another week or two with a knee injury.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
"I'm sure they'll say that, but it's no excuse. We had a few guys who didn't compete at the level we need."

- Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson speaking to the Maple Leafs official team website on the Leafs players saying they were tired after the Flyers defeated Toronto, 6-2, on Wednesday night.

 
POINT OF INTEREST
12: Heading into the Toronto’s tilt with the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night forward Matt Stajan, Toronto’s second-leading scorer with 32 points, had gone 12 games without a goal. 
  
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Author: Jason Seidling

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