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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Maple Leafs II

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (29-17-4) vs. MAPLE LEAFS (25-19-7)

Feb. 1, 2012 - 7:30 pm  |  WHERE: Air Canada Centre

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a tight battle for a playoff spot, as they're currently sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The team dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to the Penguins Tuesday night in a back-to-back, home-and-home series.

Head coach Ron Wilson, who overtook Mike Keenan for fifth place in career NHL games coached Tuesday (1,387), has steered the team to a 25-19-6 record. The Leafs haven’t made the postseason since 2004, but have a right to be optimistic about their chances.

Pens celebrate a 5-4 comeback shootout win Tuesday night against Toronto
Offensive defenseman John-Michael Liles and winger Colby Armstrong are close to returning to the lineup after recovering from concussions. Their returns should only help Toronto, which is starting to play highly competitive hockey - winning three of its last four games heading into the break.

The Leafs offense has gotten a boost from secondary scoring contributions lately - particularly from Mikhail Grabovski, who was named the NHL's First Star of the Week - to compliment the All-Star talents and Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Grabovski scored two goals and added an assist for Toronto Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Kessel leads the team with 26 goals and is on pace to set a new career high in that category. Lupul, an alternate captain for Team Chara at the All-Star Game this weekend in Ottawa, leads the team with 52 points (20G-32A) – one behind his career best total.

Even the Leafs penalty kill, which ranks dead-last in the NHL with a 75.2-percent success rate, has improved dramatically. Toronto did not allow a power-play goal against in the entire month of January – going a perfect 17-for-17.

Much of the team's recent success can be attributed to goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, as the “Monster” has won seven of his last 11 games. Three of those wins came with Gustavsson posting a shutout. Gustavsson played on back-to-back nights against the Islanders, and could see action in both games against Pittsburgh.



MacArthur had been struggling to find the scoresheet recently as he went pointless for eight straight games. However, he's broken out of that slump in a big way. MacArthur posted three goals and five points in his past two contests, including two points (1G-1A) against the Penguins Tuesday night.

The 37-year-old forward is finding some youthful legs. Sullivan has been one of the Pens' best performers in terms of using his speed and effort over the course of their eight-game winning streak. And lately he's been rewarded for his work. Sullivan had two points against Toronto, including the goal that sparked a three-goal comeback to tie the game at 4-4 in the third period. Before the break, Sullivan scored a goal against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 24 in another Pittsburgh victory.

Tonight the Penguins will be looking to extend their season-high eight-game winning streak. Only the Boston Bruins, who had a 10-game winning streak from Nov. 1-23, have had a longer streak this season. The Penguins are the first NHL team to have two winning streaks of eight or more games over the previous two seasons (won 12 straight games between Nov. 17-Dec. 11, 2010).

This is one of three instances this season where the Penguins will play back-to-back games against the same team. On Oct. 25 and 27, the Penguins swept the NY Islanders by scores of 3-0 and 3-2 in a shootout. The Penguins will have a home-and-home against the Islanders again on March 27 and 29.

There isn’t a team Evgeni Malkin enjoys facing more than the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 18 career games against the Leafs, Malkin has tallied nine goals, 29 assists and 38 points for an average of 2.11 points per game. Malkin has registered at least one point in 17 of the 18 games. Malkin also has an active 11-game point streak against the Leafs, during which he has tallied 22 points (7G-21A). Malkin scored the game-tying goal with 6.6 seconds left in regulation Tuesday night and added the game-deciding shootout tally.

Pittsburgh has gone to overtime in five of its previous six games entering tonight, with four of those contests advancing to a shootout.The Penguins have won all five games to improve their overtime record to 9-4 this season, and their shootout mark to 7-2. Dating back to a 3-2 overtime win at Boston on March 5 of last season, the Penguins have gone 15-4 in their last 19 overtime contests (12-2 in shootouts).

Pens forwards Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal and defenseman Simon Despres skated together before the team's practice Monday and Tuesday. Crosby was diagnosed with a soft-tissue injury in his neck. That's positive news for all.

F Arron Asham, illness/concussion-like symptoms (7)
C Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (23)
D Simon Despres, knee (10)
F Jordan Staal, knee (12)

F Colby Armstrong, concussion (18)
F Darryl Boyce, back (6)
D John-Michael Liles, concussion (16)

Author: Sam Kasan

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