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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Leafs

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (19-8-0) vs. LEAFS (15-11-1)
WHEN: March 14, 2013 - 7:00 p.m.  |  WHERE: Air Canada Centre
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

The Penguins travel to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs for the second time in six days. Pittsburgh pulled out a 5-4 shootout victory March 9 and is looking to leave the Air Canada Centre with another two points Thursday night.

The Leafs have proven to be a tough matchup for the Penguins this season. Their speed through the neutral zone and skill up front has proven difficult for Pittsburgh to contain. The Leafs triumphed at CONSOL Energy Center, 5-2, back on Jan. 23, and they came back from 3-1 and 4-2 deficits to force a shootout last Saturday.

Toronto has been one of the bigger surprises in the NHL this season. Head coach Randy Carlyle has instilled strong fundamentals into the team, and they’re getting results. The Leafs are currently fifth (tied) in the Eastern Conference as of Wednesday and could snap their eight-year playoff drought if they keep rolling.

The Leafs offense has been led by rookie Nazem Kadri. The seventh-overall selection in the 2009 NHL Draft is tied for the team lead with 25 points (11G-14A) on the season, and has been their most consistent scoring threat. Kadri, 22, had his seven-game scoring streak snapped by Pittsburgh in their previous matchup. During that stretch he posted six goals – including a hat trick against the NY Islanders – and 11 points. He's gone pointless in his last two games, so he may be due to get back on the scoresheet.

James van Riemsdyk leads the club with 14 goals. He’s a big body and constant presence at the net. Phil Kessel hasn’t been filling the net with his usual regularity – only nine goals on the year – but he has been setting up scores. He leads the team with 16 assists, and is tied for the team scoring lead at 25 points. Kessel potted two goals against the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday night, so he's heating up.

The Leafs blue line is led by captain Dion Phaneuf. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound defenseman has 15 points and 77 hits on the season. Mr. Elisha Cuthbert has logged a lot of minutes for his club, leading the way with 25:58 per game.

Perhaps the biggest improvement for the Leafs this season has been the play between the pipes. James Reimer and Ben Scrivens have both have performed well when given the opportunity. Reimer has a 9-4-1 record with a .916 save percentage. While Reimer was sidelined with an injury, Scrivens proved himself capable of handling the load and Toronto didn’t miss a beat. Reimer allowed four goals to Winnipeg before being pulled Tuesday night. He'll be looking to bounce back against the Penguins if he gets the start.

(Getty Images)

Van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kessel


(Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs were looking for a little more punch in their offense during the offseason. So they traded away defenseman Luke Schenn to Philadelphia for James van Riemsdyk. Van Riemsdyk was the second-overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft by the Flyers, but never seemed to fulfill his massive potential in Philadelphia. Toronto is hoping a change of scenery will make a difference. So far, so good as van Riemsdyk leads the team in goals (14) and appears to be energized with his new team. He’s notorious for crashing the Penguins’ net, something he did with regularity during his time as a Philadelphia Flyer. “JVR” scored three goals in two games against Pittsburgh this season, and would love to add to that total Thursday night.

Kris Letang enters the game with a career-high six-game assist streak (12 total). He leads all NHL defensemen in points (27) and assists (24). He also continues to log a heavy workload, leading the team with 26:13 minutes per game. He's coming off a big performance against the Boston Bruins Tuesday night. He notched an assist, a plus-1 rating, eight shots (one shy of a career high), three hits and team-best 27:49 minutes. Expect him to be a factor against the Leafs.

F Evgeni Malkin, upper-body


F Joffrey Lupul, forearm

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