Pittsburgh Penguins (43-25-7-93) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-35-12-68)
09-10 Season Series: Penguins lead 2-1 09-10 Home vs. Toronto: Penguins trail 0-1 All-Time vs. Toronto: Penguins lead 68-67-20 All-Time Home vs. Toronto: Penguins lead 41-31-7 Overtime: Penguins trail 2-5-3 Shootout: Series tied 0-0
It has been another rebuilding season in Toronto, but good things appear on the horizon for the Maple Leafs despite the fact that the team sits in next-to-last place in the NHL’s overall standings. Since returning from the Olympic break the Maple Leafs have posted a solid 9-4-1 record, led by Jonas Gustavsson’s 7-0 record in goal. Toronto has also gone out and acquired a couple stars to build around in Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf. When you factor in the development of youngsters Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg, junior sensation Nazem Kadri and another top-three draft pick, the Maple Leafs are certainly a team on the rise.
Luca Caputi – Penguins fans need no introduction to the type of game Caputi will provide the Maple Leafs as he continues his maturation. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Caputi plays a strong power game down low and is strong in front of the net. The scary thing is he still has room to further grow into his game. Caputi has picked up six points (1G-5A) in 12 games with the Maple Leafs.
Carl Gunnarsson – Another bright spot for the Leafs over the course of the season has been the development of Gunnarsson into a legitimate top-four defender since being recalled in mid-November. Gunnarsson has picked up 11 points (2G-9A) in 35 games, and has posted a team-leading plus-10 rating. He has played 22 or more minutes in seven of his last 10 games as Ron Wilson continues to give him more responsibilities.
Tyler Bozak – The twenty-four-year-old Bozak was a late bloomer in the hockey world, spending time in the British Columbia Hockey League until he was 22, when he picked up 128 points (45G-83A) in 59 games. That earned him a scholarship to the University of Denver, where he notched 34 points (18G-16A) in 41 games as a freshman, before signing with the Leafs late last season. The rookie is now centering the Leafs’ top line, and is averaging almost a point per game while displaying the creativity to be a top-two center for years to come.
Mikhail Grabovski – Toronto’s second-line center has been strong lately for the Leafs, picking up eight points (3G-5A) over his past 10 games. That is sort of the book on Grabovski – he can be very streak at times, and right now he is riding a hot spell. His overall numbers are down a bit in his second full NHL season as he missed 23 games with a broken wrist earlier in the year, which prevented him from representing Belarus at the 2010 Olympic Games.
Phil Kessel – Yes, it might have cost Toronto a top-three pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, but you can’t argue with the star-power Kessel provides. He is one goal shy of a second straight 30-goal campaign, leading the Leafs in scoring despite missing the first 12 games of the season. Kessel brings a dynamic element to the lineup with both speed and a wicked wrist shot. He was a key contributor during Team USA’s run to a silver medal at the 2010 Olympic Games. Kessel has eight goals over his past nine games.
Nikolai Kulemin – Second-year standout Kulemin is one of a handful of Leafs who have been playing their best hockey here during the stretch run. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Russian has posted five points (1G-4A) over his past four games. Kulemin has already surpassed his goal and point totals from last season. Kulemin scored the winning goal in overtime to defeat the Rangers Saturday night.
Viktor Stalberg – Stalberg had a strong preseason for the Leafs, allowing the Swedish winger to make the opening-night roster. However a slow start resulted in Stalberg shuffling to and from the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League four times before being recalled for good following the Olympic break. Stalberg has a potent shot which has allowed him to post 12 goals and 33 points in 39 AHL contests. He has nine points (5G-4A) in 32 games at the NHL level.
Tyler Bozak Mikhail Grabovski
Phil Kessel Nikolai Kulemin
Francois Beauchemin – Beauchemin has long been a favorite of Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke since their days in Anaheim when the two helped the Ducks win the 2007 Stanley Cup. The 29-year-old has always been a minutes-eater, and his 25:28 minutes of ice time leads the Leafs. He is a strong two-way performer who can make a good first pass out of the zone and has an accurate shot from the point. Defensively, he is one of the better shot-blockers, leading the Leafs with 140 blocked shots.
Tomas Kaberle – Despite a current scoring slump which has seen him post just two points (1G-1A) in his last 15 games, Kaberle continues to rank among the top-eight scorers among defensemen. The smooth-skating Czech is two points shy of registering 50 points for the fourth time in the past five seasons. Kaberle is the quarterback of the Maple Leafs’ power play and is one of the top defensive playmakers in the game. He is also an effective stick-on-stick defender who relies on solid positioning to make plays.
Luke Schenn – Schenn suffered through the sophomore doldrums at the beginning of the season, but the 20-year-old has turned his season around dramatically and is having a great second half. Schenn looks the part of a future defensive stopper thanks to his all frills, no thrills style. He is a technician out on the ice, meaning he is great at making the simple plays and is always in the perfect position. A testament to his overall improvement, his rating has risen from a minus-12 last season to plus-4 this year.
Tomas Kaberle Luke Schenn
Jean-Sebastien Giguere – Sometimes all it takes is a little change of scenery and a better opportunity to turn a player’s season around. That is what seems to have happened for Giguere, a former Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup winner with Anaheim. In 11 games with Toronto, where he is splitting starts with Jonas Gustavsson, Giguere has posted a 4-6-1 record, 2.51 goals-against average and .913 save percentage – all three much higher than the numbers he posted in 20 appearances with the Ducks.
Jonas Gustavsson – The 25-year-old Swedish rookie is nicknamed “Monster,” and since the Olympic break he is proving why he is worthy of such a moniker. He is 7-0 with a sub-2.00 goals-against average since returning from representing Sweden in Vancouver. At 6-foot-3, Gustavsson leaves little room behind him for shooters to aim, so getting traffic his way and fighting for second-chance shots is a must.
J.S. Giguere Jonas Gustavsson
Dion Phaneuf - Toronto general manager Brian Burke likes to build his teams from the back line out, so he made sure to acquire a No. 1 defenseman in Phaneuf to expedite the rebuilding process. When he is on top of his game, Phaneuf can be a factor at both ends of the rink. Defensively, he is not afraid to step up and lay a big hit in the neutral zone, so he does a great job of keeping opposing forwards on their toes. Offensively, he has reached double-digit goals for the fifth-consecutive season. He has one of the more potent shots in the game.
“(Sunday) is something that’s been in the back of my mind the past couple of days. It will be emotional, but I just want to get the two points and play my game, play hard and create energy.” - Toronto forward and former Penguin Luca Caputi talking to the Toronto Sun on facing Pittsburgh for the first time.
"We've been finding ways to win hockey games. We don't care if takes 60 minutes or 65, and that's a good sign. We know we can be better, but with saying that every game is not going to be a perfect one. We'll take the two points." - Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf on the Maple Leafs’ inspired play since returning from the Olympic break.
“We’ve had good goaltending since that (Jan. 31) trade for (Jean-Sebastien) Giguere. He’s calmed down Jonas (Gustavsson) a lot.” - Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson speaking to the Toronto Sun about the solid play the Leafs have received between the pipes.
7-1 One reason the Leafs have posted a 9-4-1 record since the break is a 7-1 record during that span when the game stretches beyond 60 minutes
5-15-3 Toronto has struggled mightily on the road this season, going just 5-15-3 over their past 23 road contests