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Leafs at Pens: Let’s Awkwardly Force A Rivalry

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The good guys head to the land of steel.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports


Time: 7:00 PM ET

Location: PPG Paints Arena (yes, they changed the name again)

Broadcast/Streaming: CBC, CITY, NHLN-US, ROOT

Opponent SBNation Site: Pensburgh

After a wild victory where it was the opponent collapsing in the third period for a change, the Leafs head to Pittsburgh. This is the first NHL game between Sidney Crosby and Auston Matthews, so there’ll be the usual parallels drawn between the franchise centres. Crosby, incidentally, is doing that thing where he reminds everyone he’s one of the greatest players of all time, so the Leafs better watch out.

After a bit of a mixed start, the Pens have been rounding into form with the return of Crosby from concussion symptoms. They did drop a game in Minnesota on Thursday, so they’ll presumably be hungry to get back in the win column. The Pens are a middling possession team, though we can expect that to improve based on their track record; they have a decent-enough PK and a dynamite powerplay. And Crosby. I feel like I haven’t mentioned him enough.

On the Leafs end: Mike Babcock has said the Leafs’ goal is to pick up six points every five games, which would be a 98-point pace and would effectively guarantee a playoff spot. Meeting the defending Cup champs on the second night of a back to back is a tall order. But if the Leafs can pull out the win tonight, they’ll be sitting at 17 points through 15 games, only one shy of Babcock’s pace. Let’s dance.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner

Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - Connor Brown

Matt Martin - Ben Smith - Nikita Soshnikov

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Nikita Zaitsev

Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick

Martin Marincin - Roman Polak


Frederik Andersen

Jhonas Enroth

Despite last night’s win , it appears changes are afoot.

Until we find out what “probably” means, I haven’t made adjustments from the Leafs’ standard lines, but this would certainly be 23 of a positive development. If all three players draw back in, Hunwick will presumably replace Marincin at LD and Corrado will replace Polak. How this affects the lower two pairings is anyone’s guess, though it would be a cruel joke for Corrado to play at last and then get sandbagged with Matt Hunwick. I’d assume Rielly-Zaitsev will stick together after their electric evening last night.

Holland would probably bump Ben Smith as 4C, though if Babs is unhappy with a winger, Holland might go to 4RW and Soshnikov can displace someone else.

I originally assumed Jhonas Enroth would get the start on the second night of a back-to-back, but:

If you’ve got a backup, back to backs are generally the time to play them. Not sure about this one, Mike.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forward Lines

Conor Sheary - Sidney Crosby -Patric Hornqvist

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust

Carl Hagelin - Nick Bonino - Phil Kessel

Scott Wilson - Matt Cullen - Eric Fehr

Defence Pairings

Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang

Olli Maata - Trevor Daley

Ian Cole - Justin Schultz


Matt Murray

Marc-Andre Fleury

This is also the first NHL meeting between the current Leafs’ franchise player and the previous one—Phil Kessel. Our boy Phil has been racking up points in bunches (13 in 14 GP so far), although his possession numbers are in a slump thus far (I doubt anyone’s too worried.) You almost certainly know at least seven of the Pens’ top nine, so for the two you don’t...

Conor Sheary is one of those small, talented scoring wingers nerds like us love. Undrafted, he’s now risen to the comfortable perch of 1LW to the best player in the NHL, and the early results are good (7 points in 7 GP this season.) Bryan Rust, well, he just looks like a middling RW to me, and he hasn’t produced a ton either this year (two points in 11 games this year) or in the AHL, but I guess he helps the Pens spread their talent out.

The defence, as usual, is anchored by the somehow-underrated puck-mover Kris Letang. Guy-I-wish-we’d-got-in-the-Kessel-trade Derrick Pouliot is out, but Maata looks decent and Justin Schultz has had a mini career renaissance with the Pens. Good for him.

In net, we’re waiting final confirmation as to which of the Pens’ goalies we’ll be seeing, but they’re both good, so it only changes so much.

Without Crosby, the Pens are a mid-level playoff team; with him, they’re terrifying, and their powerplay will eat you. No time to be tired now, Leafs.