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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Maple Leafs

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (39-21-5) vs. MAPLE LEAFS (30-29-7)
WHEN: March 7, 2012 - 7:30 pm  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
WATCH: NBC Sports Network  |  LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM

The Toronto Maple Leafs relieved head coach Ron Wilson of his duties last Friday after a miserable 1-9-1 skid that saw a team already on the playoff bubble slip further out of contention.

New Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle (Getty Images)
General manager Brian Burke replaced Wilson with Randy Carlyle, who will be coaching his third game behind the Leafs bench Wednesday in Pittsburgh after making his home debut Tuesday against Boston, a 5-4 loss to the Bruins. Carlyle, who was fired by the Ducks on Nov. 30, worked with Burke in Anaheim from 2005-08 and the two won the Stanley Cup together in 2007. He's got a tall task ahead of him, as the Leafs have just two wins in their last 13 games and sit five points out of the playoffs.

Carlyle, a former Norris Trophy winner with the Penguins, won his first game behind the Leafs bench Saturday against Montreal – where forward Mikhail Grabovski scored two goals and an assist in a 3-1 win. After notching just one assist in a nine-game span, Grabovski now has six points in his last three outings.

Overall, he’s got 21 goals and 46 points through 60 games – building a respectable encore to his career 2010-11 season, where he scored 29 goals and 58 points. He’s been thriving in Toronto the last two campaigns and was rewarded with a five-year, $27.5-million contract on Tuesday.

The Maple Leafs, who have the NHL’s second-youngest roster, have plenty of talent up front – led by Grabovski and All-Star forwards Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Kessel leads the team with 33 goals and has 19 points (7G-12A) in his last 15 outings, while Lupul – whose 66 points rank second behind linemate Kessel – has five points (2G-3A) in his last four games. Unfortunately, Lupul suffered a lower-body injury in Tuesday's game and will not play Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Their struggles have been more in their goaltending, as tandem James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson haven’t been able to find their games during Toronto’s losing skid. It’s been a rough year for Reimer, who’s in his second NHL campaign. After dealing with a head injury early in the season that sidelined him for 18 games, he lost the starting job to Gustavsson in January after his goalie partner went on a 7-2-1 run. Reimer was seemingly getting on the right track by winning three straight in early February, but has lost six of his last seven. Gustavsson hasn’t fared much better lately, though he did get the win against the Canadiens.



Grabovski will certainly be a player to watch on Wednesday, as he’s been a thorn in the Penguins’ side all season. The 28-year-old forward has piled up three goals, six points and 11 shots in three games against Pittsburgh this season. Grabovski, who inked a five-year, $27.5 million contract extension with the Leafs on Tuesday, has six points in his last three outings after recording just one assist through his previous nine games. For the season, the skilled, speedy forward ranks third in team scoring behind Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul with 46 points (21G-25A).


There isn’t a team Malkin enjoys facing more than the Maple Leafs. In 19 career games against the Leafs, Malkin has tallied nine goals, 29 assists and 38 points for an average of 2.0 points per game. Malkin has registered at least one point in 17 of the 19 contests and he has had at least one point in each of his nine career home games against the Maple Leafs. Prior to being held scoreless in the two teams’ most recent meeting on Feb. 1, Malkin had an 11-game point streak against the Leafs from Jan. 3, 2008-Jan. 31, 2012 during which he tallied 22 points (7G-15A). And not only does Malkin thrive against Toronto, but he’s been hot overall. He enters Wednesday’s game with an eight-game scoring streak (6G-6A) and is first place in the NHL scoring race with 81 points (38G-43A).

Pittsburgh enters Wednesday's game riding a six-game winning streak – the longest active streak in the NHL. The Penguins’ six-game winning streak is their second-longest of the season. Pittsburgh had a season-best eight-game winning streak from Jan. 13-31.

The Penguins are 18-4-1 in their last 23 games dating back to Jan. 13.

Pittsburgh has won four straight home games and is 10-1 in its last 11 home contests. During this run, the Penguins have outscored their opponents, 42-25. They have scored four or more goals in seven of the 11 games, including two instances where they have registered eight goals in a game (Feb. 11 vs. Winnipeg, 8-5; Feb. 25 vs. Tampa Bay, 8-1).

Pittsburgh enters Wednesday’s game with the NHL’s No. 1-ranked home PK unit with a 90.3% success rate (84-for-93) this year. In their last 11 home games dating back to Jan. 17, the Penguins have killed off 32-of-35 opposition man-advantage situations (91.4%). The Penguins have scored at least one power-play goal in five of their last seven home games. They are clicking at a 50% success rate (8-for-16) in those seven games.

This season the Penguins have an unbeaten record (16-0-1) when they win the special teams battle at home.

Evgeni Malkin (38G-43A) enters Wednesday’s game with 81 total points, giving him a one-point advantage over Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos atop the NHL scoring race. The two also rank Nos. 1-2 (Stamkos, 47; Malkin, 38) in the goal-scoring race. Malkin is also riding an eight-game point streak (6G-6A), his second-longest streak of the season (9 games; Dec. 8-29; 6G-13A).

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has been cleared for full contact, but there is no timetable for a possible return to the lineup.

“I was cleared to do contact,” said Crosby, who resumed contact practice with his teammates Tuesday afternoon. “We’ll see how that goes. There is no real timetable, but it’s a good step. Hopefully, I can keep the momentum and get out there soon.”

Crosby, who has been out of the lineup since Dec. 6 with concussion-like symptoms and a neck injury, was experiencing headaches, but has been symptom free for “a few days.”

Full story on Crosby can be found here.

While defenseman Kris Letang is still experiencing "symptoms" after a hit from Stars forward Eric Nystrom midway through the first period of Pittsburgh's 4-3 shootout win over Dallas on Feb. 29, head coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday that the All-Star blueliner is feeling better.

"Going through the tests that you go through, he’s feeling better and doing well," Bylsma said. "He’s still having symptoms in some areas. But he is continuing to feel better. They progressed him to light activity. He did that today. I don’t quite know what that means for him in terms of timetable, short term or long term. (A concussion) hasn’t been diagnosed at this point in time. He’s still having symptoms."

Goalie Brent Johnson, who has been sidelined since tweaking something in practice on Feb. 23, returned to practice with the team on Tuesday as the next step in his rehab.

"I’m still day-to-day," he said. "Still feeling it a little bit. Not up to snuff yet. The first practice felt good, though. To be back there, it’s been a while."

Johnson remains optimistic that the injury won't be long term.

"It’s something that’s been nagging me for a very long time," he said. "Hopefully get it taken care of and hopefully it’ll get better in the next couple days here."

Defenseman Deryk Engelland did not play Monday vs. Phoenix with a lower-body injury and Bylsma said Tuesday that he remains day-to-day. The Penguins recalled Brian Strait from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this morning to take Engelland's place in the lineup against the Coyotes.

C Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (38)
D Deryk Engelland, lower body (1)
G Brent Johnson, undisclosed (7)
D Kris Letang, symptoms (3)


Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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