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Maple Leafs Pregame #61: 5 things to watch for in Pittsburgh

The Panthers closed the gap last night. The Leafs aren’t looking good and have a much tougher schedule over the next six weeks. It will be interesting.

As for Pittsburgh they are 7-2-1 in their last 10, and have generally been good beyond those 10 games as well. Joy.

Lineups

LW C RW Forwards
Zach Hyman
ZACH HYMAN

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Rating: 75.1#30 LW

Auston Matthews
AUSTON MATTHEWS

Rating: 83.2#3 C

Mitch Marner
MITCH MARNER

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Rating: 78.2#8 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 78.82#3 FL1
William Nylander
WILLIAM NYLANDER

Rating: 76.9#11 LW

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John Tavares
JOHN TAVARES

Rating: 79.4#12 C

Alexander Kerfoot
ALEXANDER KERFOOT

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Rating: 72.2#81 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 76.19#4 FL2
Kyle Clifford
KYLE CLIFFORD

Rating: 69.7#125 LW

Pierre Engvall
PIERRE ENGVALL

Rating: 71.9#89 C

Kasperi Kapanen
KASPERI KAPANEN

Rating: 71.9#91 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 71.16#22 FL3
Egor Korshkov
EGOR KORSHKOV
Jason Spezza
JASON SPEZZA

Rating: 70.5#125 C

Mason Marchment
MASON MARCHMENT

Rating: 73.5#47 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 72.00#6 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Jake Muzzin
JAKE MUZZIN

Rating: 73.9#34 LD

Justin Holl
JUSTIN HOLL

Rating: 71.6#77 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 72.73#23 DL1
Travis Dermott
TRAVIS DERMOTT

Rating: 71.7#83 LD

Tyson Barrie
TYSON BARRIE

Rating: 75.9#16 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 73.79#13 DL2
Rasmus Sandin
RASMUS SANDIN

Rating: 73.2#55 LD

Timothy Liljegren
TIMOTHY LILJEGREN

Rating: 72.9#48 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 73.04#8 DL3
LW C RW Forwards
Jason Zucker
JASON ZUCKER

Rating: 74.5#37 LW

Sidney Crosby
SIDNEY CROSBY

Rating: 81.7#6 C

Dominik Simon
DOMINIK SIMON

Rating: 70.0#125 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 75.39#16 FL1
Jared McCann
JARED MCCANN

Rating: 73.2#51 LW

Evgeni Malkin
EVGENI MALKIN

Rating: 79.7#11 C

Bryan Rust
BRYAN RUST

Rating: 76.5#15 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 76.45#3 FL2
Zach Aston-Reese
ZACH ASTON-REESE

Rating: 69.6#127 LW

Teddy Blueger
TEDDY BLUEGER
Brandon Tanev
BRANDON TANEV

Rating: 71.6#96 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 70.63#28 FL3
Sam Lafferty
SAM LAFFERTY

Rating: 71.2#96 LW

Andrew Agozzino
ANDREW AGOZZINO

Rating: 72.0#85 C

Patric Hornqvist
PATRIC HORNQVIST

Rating: 73.9#39 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 72.37#3 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Jack Johnson
JACK JOHNSON

Rating: 71.7#84 LD

Kris Letang
KRIS LETANG

Rating: 78.7#3 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 75.17#10 DL1
Marcus Pettersson
MARCUS PETTERSSON

Rating: 72.7#63 LD

Justin Schultz
JUSTIN SCHULTZ

Rating: 73.1#43 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 72.91#22 DL2
Juuso Riikola
JUUSO RIIKOLA

Rating: 72.0#75 LD

Chad Ruhwedel
CHAD RUHWEDEL

Rating: 71.1#86 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 71.52#18 DL3

We’ll take this brief moment to laugh at Jack Johnson being a top pairing defenseman, but then I will ask you all to reflect on exactly why a team with Jack Johnson on it’s top defensive pairing is doing so much better than the Leafs this season.

Here are five things to watch for…

1. Goaltending controversy

Pass. There’s no controversy, Jack Campbell is shiny and new, better lately, and isn’t recovering from a neck injury. He should probably play a fair bit over the next few weeks. Now that the requisite praise of Campbell is done, the Leafs need Andersen to get back to the level he can play at because ultimately he is the better goaltender, and the one the Leafs (likely) need to get them through to the playoffs and beyond.

2. The case for trading wingers

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have made careers out of carrying bad wingers around. To some extent that was Tavares’ life before Toronto as well, and perhaps that something to consider for the Leafs heading into the trade deadline. Assuming the foundation of Nylander, Marner, and Hyman remains intact on the wing, wouldn’t it be nice to explore what the Leafs can do with Kerfoot and/or Kapanen in the coming days?

3. I’m going to fall in love with Egor Korshkov

As someone who will never stop banging the trade Kapanen, Kerfoot, and Johnsson drums, the potential rise of another affordable Marlies option to bottom six is a beautiful thing. Korshkov has the potential to be a Pierre Engvall lite, and heck, even a full blown Engvall, I’m not calling it after one game, but Engvall’s AHL track record was better. He brings a lot of characteristics the Leafs can use to their roster, and with a price tag that warms my heart. Hopefully the trade off for the Leafs season of injuries will be the continued success of their callups.

4. How are the Penguins competitive with that bottom half of their roster?

Perhaps we’re just at the point where we’ve talked ourselves into believing every no name Leaf is something special (see point #3 above) and the Leafs roster truly looks worse than the bottom part of the Pens lineup. Still, we spend a lot of time using Matthews, Tavares, and Marner’s names in the same breath as players like Crosby and Malkin, or McDavid and Draisaitl, and they’ve seemingly been able to carry teams with far worse supporting casts.

This isn’t an argument that Matthews and Tavares need to give more, and really it’s not an argument for Marner or Nylander to do that either, it’s just a general level of confusion about why a Marcus Pettersson and Justin Schultz defensive pairing is getting it done when a Dermott/Barrie isn’t.

The answer is probably goaltending, right? It’s always goaltending.

5. Are Sandin and Muzzin banged up?

As of right now it looks like both will play, but nothing about Sunday’s game should have us feeling confident that either are at 100%. I hate to say the name Martin Marincin, because it’s never received well on the internet, but perhaps it’s time to give Marincin a game and let Sandin sit. Potentially Marincin can eat a few more minutes than Sandin does as well, which could bail out Muzzin in addition to Sandin on the health front.

Game time is 7PM ET, and can be seen on Sportsnet.