Well, here’s another big game.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight with another precious two points on the line. Toronto comes in as a team that has improved lately and will not be a throw-away game.
In their last four games, the Maple Leafs are 3-1-0. However their last game was an 8-5 loss at Boston. In that game the Bruins exposed a serious weakness in the Leafs: their penalty kill.
Boston scored four power play goals in six chances against Toronto. This was not just one fluky situation. The Leafs are third from the bottom of the league in killing penalties with a success rate of just 75.2%.
Thus, this is the second game straight that the Pens have an opponent they can easily take advantage of with the correct execution. Against Atlanta Pittsburgh went 2-for-3 with the man-advantage.
With Evgeni Malkin on a tear right now, scoring points in seven game straight, he has a prime chance to push that streak to eight. In the last seven games, Malkin has 14 points (4 G – 10 A).
The Leafs don’t just struggle when down a man, though, it doesn’t help. One the year, Toronto is allowing the third most goals of any NHL team with 109. That is an average of 3.5 goals per game.
All these numbers are very reminiscent of the Penguins’ last opponent, Atlanta.
The blue line is doing nothing to help the situation. Only one defenseman has played over 20 games and has a positive plus/minus rating. His name is Ian White and he has a plus-4.
Given these numbers, the trend could be changing. It seems that the Leafs might be turning the corner a bit and could be approaching competitiveness to an extent. In three straight wins prior to their blowout loss in Boston, they outscored opponents 9-5. Whether this is an aberration or not has yet to be determined.
Their scoring is nothing to drool over, but they can score some goals. The point production is well spread amongst the team with five players scoring 20 points or more: Matt Stajan, Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Tomas Kaberle and Mikhail Grabovski.
Stajan leads the way with 24 points (7 G – 17 A) with the big goal scorer being Antropov (12).
As far as goaltenders go, Vesa Toskala will most likely be in net. Both he and Curtis Joseph gave up four goals in the debacle in Boston. However, Toskala has better numbers on the year (12-9-5 with a 3.11 GAA and .887 SV%) and has been getting the majority of the starting time in net.
The Pens need to do the same things they did against Atlanta. Toronto is eerily the same on paper and looks to be vulnerable in the same areas that the Thrashers were.
Getting on the power play is the main concern. The Leafs have been averaging nearly four penalties a game in the month of December and if they find themselves in the box that many times tonight, the Penguins should be in good shape.
Special Teams: Pittsburgh
From above I think it’s obvious. Pittsburgh will win by two goals.
Chris | PPT