A slight hiccup for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Boston the other night, but Toronto have still won more than they’ve lost over this recent stretch of games, and have won more than they’ve lost on the season. They currently sit 15-10-0 in the Eastern Conference, good for 5th, and presumably need 12 more wins in the next 23 games to make the playoffs. Good news, Matt Frattin is returning to the lineup tonight.
It’s a tough task tonight against Pittsburgh. I hate to use this word, but the Penguins may be the most enigmatic club in the National Hockey League. Their +15 goal differential is 2nd in the conference, they’re 2nd in the conference in points and have scored more goals than any team in the NHL. They also, however, have given up a tonne of goals, found themselves down 4-1 to Philadelphia on Thursday before coming back and last Saturday blew a one-goal lead and a two-goal lead in a wild 7-6 game against Montreal.
Pittsburgh is a team that looks like they could win the Stanley Cup easily one night, then come out the next night and give up six goals in a loss against Florida. Such is life for a team built on offence and shooting talent and not much else.
Puck Drop: 7 PM EST
By The Numbers:
|Fenwick Close||51.55% (12th)||45.16% (26th)|
|5v5 GF/GA Ratio||1.15 (9th)||1.10 (13th)|
|Team Shooting %||10.20%||10.00%|
|Team Save %||0.905||0.926|
|PP Success||25.8% (4th)||17.0% (14th)|
|5v4 GF/60||8.7 (5th)||5.3 (17th)|
|5v4 SF/60||51.0 (11th)||47.8 (14th)|
|PK Success||79.6% (20th)||83.5% (10th)|
|4v5 GA/60||6.3 (13th)||5.5 (10th)|
|4v5 SA/60||51.5 (23rd)||43.8 (9th)|
Pittsburgh ranks a lot lower in puck possession than you might expect. Their top three lines are very, very good. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby centre the top two lines while Brandon Sutter centres an effective checking unit similar to what Toronto does with Mikhail Grabovski. That said, they’re still a top-half team, and they have a lot of players with tremendous talent and shooter ability. Overall they’re a bit liable to take risks on defence and leave their shaky goaltenders open to abuse.
It’s a weird team. Here are the expected lines:
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Pascal Dupuis
Beau Bennett – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Matt Cooke – Brandon Sutter – Tyler Kennedy
Tanner Glass – Dustin Jeffrey – Craig Adams
Matt Niskanen – Kris Letang
Paul Martin – Brooks Orpik
Simon Despres – Deryk Engelland
The first question you’ll ask is “what kind of a name is Beau?” Mr. Bennett turned pro this season, scoring somewhat regularly on the farm before coming up. That Bennett-Malkin-Neal line is a bit of a puck-possession dynamo.
The second question you’ll ask is the matchup problem this posits for Toronto. Dan Bylsma isn’t keen on the hard match ups as Toronto is. Sutter sees a lot of top competition, but last time the Leafs played the Penguins, even though the game was in Pittsburgh, Randy Carlyle got the match ups he would have wanted as Bylsma just gave them to him. Kessel skated against Crosby, Malkin skated against Grabovski and Sutter was for some reason matching up against Nazem Kadri. If the Leafs got those match ups again this time around, it’d be a good thing, and the fourth line can play in situations where the other three lines are tired and the Pens’ fourth is on the ice.
Toronto will get Matt Frattin back in the lineup, but we won’t know who has come out of the lineup until a bit before puck drop. I’d be worried if Randy Carlyle wants to keep his fourth line together and dropped Leo Komarov out of the lineup, but some of me thinks he’s a tad more sensible than that and it will be Frazer McLaren’s turn to sit. You could make a case that Colton Orr should be flipped out because of the penalty he took last game:
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur – Nazem Kadri – Matt Frattin
Nik Kulemin – Mikhail Grabovski – Jay McClement
??? – David Steckel – ???
The other issue is on defence. Apparently John-Michael Liles is coming back in. Probably a good thing, as I’ve liked his game better than Korbinian Holzer’s this season. We don’t know who will come out, but Jonas Siegel referred to “various and bruises to group” which makes me worried Carl Gunnarsson will have to sit again. Liles and Mike Kostka haven’t been too bad of a unit, but Gunnarsson’s been the only Leafs defenceman to play significant minutes this year without being in minus territory with regard to scoring chances.
James Reimer to start. He was the clear first star against the Penguins last time out. For a refresher, here’s our recap from the last Penguins-Leafs game, where Toronto won 5-2.
Lines Info via Left Wing Lock