The Toronto Maple Leafs will go to the Steel City to take on one of the NHL's elite teams that they have somehow managed to compete with over the past three years. They have a 5-4-3 record over the past three years which covers 12 games including nine one goal games. Of course, the three that were decided by more than one all went the Penguins' way. I'm going to chalk this anomaly up to the Leafs getting up for the game out of fear of being embarrassed and the Penguins deciding to take a bad team easy.
Nazem Kadri was placed on the top powerplay unit which based on how the unit has done thus far can't possibly hurt. He has the creativity that will hopefully help unlock some stingy penalty killing units. It is only two games but an interesting theme so far has been how much Randy Carlyle has used Kulemin as a defensive winger in tough situations. The Leafs will be in tough with Crosby and Malkin on different lines as they try to figure out how to match up against them while still finding Lupul and Kessel enough ice time.
James Reimer gets the start tonight. In his career he's 2-0-1 with a .926sv% but it's his first game in 10 months. At the other end of the ice, MAF is 11-9-3 against the Leafs with a .893sv%. This isn't the best game to give Reimer his first start but he eventually has to face a good team. Hope he's ready.
Three Questions With Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh
1. How do you think the Penguins will benefit from the addition of Vokoun?
The addition of Tomas Vokoun gives the Penguins possibilities. Marc-Andre Fleury had a very good regular season (42-17-4, 2.36 GAA and .913 sv %) but he made too many mental and physical mistakes in the early part of the Flyers series. The team just had zero confidence in Brent Johnson's ability to stop the puck, so they had to stick with Fleury for better or worse (mainly worse).
The Penguins only have seven back-to-back games in this shortened season (better than most teams) so they won't need Vokoun too much for scheduling purposes. But if only to have a capable backup to mentally push Fleury- who played his best hockey in 2008 when Ty Conklin was going through a hot-streak- could be a boon for the team.
And, at worst, if Fleury sinks in the playoffs the team will have an option to switch courses.
2. How great is it to have a healthy Crosby back in the lineup?
Oh man, it's really something great to see. Personally I feel like Penguin fans (and columnists) are spoiled and can act entitled- between Lemieux to Jagr to Crosby to Malkin a Penguin has won 14 of the past 24 scoring titles. The collection of individual talent and performances has just been sick and it's sort of numbing, as sad as it is to say.
When Crosby and Malkin both got hurt in 2011, their absence presented a pretty good chance to re-adjust and enjoy just how special and lucky Penguin fans are to be able to watch these guys every night, in the primes of their careers. For someone as competitive and hockey-obssesed as Sid is, being out so long with a murky return was killing him. Now to see him back and hopefully past the worst of it is really wonderful.
By the way, only an assist in 2 games so far this season for Crosby. He's getting ready to have a breakout game here soon....
3. Do you think the team will feel the loss of Jordan Staal?
Long-term, I think they will. Jordan Staal was a possession-driver unlike anyone else in the NHL, in terms of his zone starts/finishes, Corsi, quality of competition, pretty much any advanced stat you care to analyze and cite. And he produced 80 points in 104 games over the past two seasons, which is nothing to sneeze at either.
Brandon Sutter has been a solid player, and is a fine 3rd line center. In a salary cap world, a team could realistically only expect to keep a Crosby-Malkin-Staal troika together for so long, sooner or later you run out of dollars or power play minutes to keep everyone happy.
For now, the team will just have to lean on Sutter and they've shifted Crosby into more PK responsibility too. I like to think as Crosby ages he might gradually ease like Steve Yzerman did into more of a two-way center role. Which will still free Malkin up for friendly offensive zone starts and an easier path to produce points.
The Maple Leafs beat the Canadiens 2-1 in their season opener before losing their own home opener 2-1 to the Buffalo Sabres. The Penguins, meanwhile, have beaten two quality opponents as they opened the year with a 3-1 win over the Flyers before chasing Henrik Lundqvist in a 6-3 win over the Rangers.
I'll update these as lineup information becomes available. Komi and Franson sat out the game Monday night and the Leafs play again tomorrow night on Long Island so I'd expect a lot of shuffling on the back end. Jake Gardiner is also practicing with the team so he may crack the lineup on this trip.
Jake Gardiner - John-Michael Liles
Update: Jake Gardiner has been activated and will be in the lineup. Korbinian Holzer has been sent to the Marlies most likely because he doesn't have to pass through waivers and the team would rather have Fraser sitting in the press box than wasting Holzer.