Pittsburgh Penguins @ Toronto Maple Leafs - Game 77
07:00 PM at Scotiabank Arena
Watch on: TVAS2, SN1, SN-PIT

The Leafs last game was away on April 6 against the Montréal Canadiens, which Toronto won by a score of 4-2 in regulation. The Leafs have a record of 44-23-9 for a 0.638 Points %.

The Pittsburgh Penguins last played at home on April 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Penguins won by a score of 5-4 in regulation, and their current league record is 36-30-11 for a 0.539 Points %.


There are two spots open in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Third place in the Metro and the second wild card are up for grabs. Tampa has clinched and holds the first wild card, and are unlikely to move from that spot.

For most of this season the Penguins have been expected to be out of contention. They moved pending UFA Jake Guentzel at the deadline, but did it in a clever way that brought a useful player back in Michael Bunting. Kyle Dubas had claimed he would sell off anything, and then he... didn't. As we know from our own history, when it's trade deadline time or free agency, Dubas is an unreliable narrator.

And now here we are with something, frankly, everyone should have seen coming: the Penguins in range of taking one of those two spots.

The NHL standings are an extremely imperfect measure of team strength, but they aren't wholly divorced from reality. It's a bit like Save %. At the big picture level, the standings can tell you who has good or bad results, but finer distinctions just can't be made, and the mapping of results onto quality is imperfect.

On March 8, the Penguins were 12th in the east and had a Points % of .525. They also had a goal differential of +4, while the four teams ahead of them, including Tampa, had a negative differential. This is another imperfect measure that is valuable because it's handy. If a team has a big negative goal differential and they are in a playoff position, then something strange is going on, and vice versa. Usually this is what Micah McCurdy calls sequencing luck, and most people call clutch or lack thereof.

In the mental model of hockey where you score by will when you need to and, if you don't, you're suspected of some flaw, losing and winning is totally in your control. In the model that recognizes the universe is a "shit happens" joint, you can get a lot of goals when you don't need them, or conversely, lose big and win close like the Islanders do.

Eventually, this kind of result at odds with ability works itself out, but often 82 games isn't enough. It might not be for the Penguins. But putting aside the handy blunt measures, to go bother with the more complex picture, the Penguins are a good team, and have been all year. They aren't elite, but they have good puck possession, better quality weighting of shots for and against, good goaltending and a horrible shooting percentage.

The intentionality model of hockey says if your shooting percentage is low, you are doing something wrong. The shit happens model says shit happens. Reality is likely some of both on this issue. The Penguins suffer most on the power play, where only the Flyers (ironically) are worse at turning Shots on Goal into goals. The difference is that by Expected Goals the Penguins are ninth in the NHL on the PP, and the Flyers stay bad at 30th. This is such a massive disparity in probability and outcome – Expected Goals is just probability of scoring with a misleading name – that you either have to believe the Penguins have no scoring talent or you have to admit that randomness can sometimes give you long, long trips through the darkness.

The Penguins have 36 goals on the power play on 67 Expected Goals. And they still have a positive goal differential.

They have some problems beyond that. Their best players are getting old and losing their magic. Their secondary players aren't all that great. Erik Karlsson is having a fantastic season, easily at the exalted level of his last one, but because he's judged only by points, he hears constantly that he's bad. And, of course, they had to move Guentzel.

But make no mistake, the Penguins are not a bad team punching above their weight like the Capitals or the Red Wings. They are some power play goals away from being a legitimate playoff team.


Pittsburgh Penguins via Daily Faceoff

Drew O'Connor - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Michael Bunting - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Reilly Smith - Lars Eller - Emil Bemstrom
Jesse Puljujarvi - Jeff Carter - Valtteri Puustinen

Pierre-Olivier Joseph - Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson - Erik Karlsson
Ryan Shea - Jack St. Ivany

Alex Nedelkovic - likely starter
Tristan Jarry


No changes to the Leafs lines are likely, although Joel Edmundson and Call Järnkrok are on the mend. There was a report that they might be ready by the final two games.


David Alter via Daily Faceoff and matches today's morning skate lines as well.

Tyler Bertuzzi - Auston Matthews - Max Domi
Bobby McMann - John Tavares - Mitchell Marner
Matthew Knies - Pontus Holmberg - William Nylander
Connor Dewar - David Kämpf - Ryan Reaves

Morgan Rielly - Ilya Lyubushkin
Simon Benoit - Jake McCabe
Mark Giordano - T.J. Brodie

Ilya Samsonov - likely starter
Joe Woll or Martin Jones

The Game

The Penguins really need to win this game. The Leafs don't particularly. So while random events will be scattered all over the place, will and desire and drive will be there as well.

At least the Leafs don't have to worry about taking penalties. (Yes, I know, that's a jinx.)

If you are not up for this tilt with the Penguins, Canada-USA at Women's Worlds is on at 7 pm on TSN.