Air Canada Centre; Toronto, Ontario
7:00 p.m. EDT; CBC
FELLOW PHIL DISCIPLES: Pensburgh
The Leafs host the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Halloween tilt, which is fitting because Leaf fans will get to see Phil Kessel dress up as a Penguin. Kessel has 4 goals and 6 points (which would lead the Leafs in scoring I WON'T CRY NO I WON'T I PROMISED I WOULDN'T) and has found chemistry on a line with Pens leading scorer Evgeni Malkin. While Malkin has caught fire, the real surprise is Sidney Crosby, who has just one goal and 5 points in 10 games. It is safe to say that Sid should lay off the pregame PB&J and maybe mix in a hot dog or two.
The Leafs come into this game 1-6-2 coming off a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Friday. While goaltending and the penalty kill look vastly improved in Friday's game, scoring remains an issue. The Leafs have 20 goals, 8 of which come from two players: James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov. The Leafs will need more from their depth to break out of their slump.
Three Questions For The Enemy
For today's preview, I recruited Mike Darnay of Pensburgh to answer some questions about the Penguins because typing stuff about them is too hard for me what with all the tears fogging up my vision. You can also follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeDarnay.
1) So....*turns off Adele music in the background*...how about that Phil Kessel guy? How's he been this year?
MD: Phil! Phil Kessel is my American hero. He had been one of my favorite hockey players (a good American boy) for many years, so the Penguins getting him in the trade was just amazing for me. He’s got 4 goals so far in 10 games, and since he switched to Evgeni Malkin’s line from Sidney Crosby’s line, he and Malkin seem to complement one another a little better.
2) The Penguins have been decent to start the season (6-4-0), but the real surprise has been a lack of scoring. They're scoring just 2 goals per game, which is surprising given the offensive weapons the team has. What's been the issue? (It's okay if you want to admit it's the hot dogs.)
MD: In general, it feels like in order to compensate for the less than stellar defense, Crosby, Malkin, and Co. are being forced into playing a full 200-foot game to help out, and sacrificing some offense in the process. Marc-Andre Fleury has bailed them out a lot, but sacrificing the offense has led to getting outshot a ton, and that can’t continue.
3) If the Penguins win tonight, what will be the reason? Consequently, if the Leafs win (lol), what will be the reason?
MD: The reason can and will be that I am attending the game tonight in Toronto, sporting a Phil Kessel throwback jersey, of course.
But for real…the Penguins PP has been mud, and I recall reading that the Leafs PK had also been mud, so maybe that can be a lynchpin for the game and help correct some of the Penguins power play woes. Penguins win 5-1, you heard it here first. If you see me at the game, say hi, i’ll maybe even buy you a hot dog in honor of Phil Kessel.
Probable Leafs Lines
The Leafs are coming off a game against the New York Rangers, so expect the lines to look about the same as we saw there. While Jonathan Bernier started on Friday night, he played what Babcock called his "best start" of the season and was rewarded with the start tonight.
van Riemsdyk - Kadri - Komarov
Matthias - Holland - Parenteau
Winnik - Bozak - Lupul
Grabner - Froese - Clune
Gardiner - Phaneuf
Hunwick - Rielly
Marincin - Polak
Probable Pittsburgh Lines
Penguins are likely to roll with the same combinations as they did on Thursday against Buffalo. Marc-Andre Fleury is the expected starter.
Pascal Dupuis - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist
David Perron - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel I MISS YOU COME BACK TO ME
Chris Kunitz - Nick Bonino - Daniel Sprong
Kevin Porter - Matt Cullen - Beau Bennett
Ian Cole - Kris Letang
Brian Dumoulin - Ben Lovejoy
Olli Maatta - Rob Scuderi
Key To The Game
FOR LEAF FANS: try not to cry. You probably won't succeed, but all we ask is that you try.
FOR THE LEAFS: (1) stay out of penalty trouble; and (2) shut down the top lines. The first one is especially important. While the Penguins PP has yet to click (they're 28th in the NHL with a 9.4% conversion rate), they have the offensive tools to be a lethal force. More importantly, the Leafs PK, at 74.3%, has been nothing short of atrocious. With the talent Pittsburgh has, their special teams won't stay cold for long, and the Leafs PK trouble make them a prime target for that resurgence.
You may also notice that the Penguins, beyond their top two lines and defensive pairing, are...well, not that good. The salary cap has rendered this a top heavy team, acquiring Kessel even more so. If the Leafs can play the strong possession game they have under Babcock and limit the scoring chances of the top of the lineup, there isn't much left over for the Leafs to worry about.
Phil Kessel gets booed because we are an awful fanbase that never deserves to have nice things.