Forgive Leafs fans for seeming a little unappreciative. Â Certainly we appreciate the effort put forth by the team in two dramatic victories over the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, but would it kill you guys to make it a little less dramatic?
After Monday’s big come from behind win the Toronto Maple Leafs return to action tonight, continuing their treacherous week through the top teams in Eastern Conference. Â On tap tonight is a battle against Sidney Crosby and the Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center.
This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams, both in Pittsburgh. Â The first saw the Maple Leafs take a 4-3 win on October 13th.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are looking for their 11th straight win tonight when they take on the Maple Leafs. Â The streak has vaulted the Penguins to the top of the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Washington Capitals.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are coming off two straight shootout wins over Boston and Washington, and now sit nine points out of the eighth and final playoff spot currently occupied by the New York Rangers.
Sidney Crosby: Crosby is seemingly on these lists everywhere you look these days, and for good reason. Â Crosby was neck and neck with the high scoring Steven Stamkos to start the season, and while Stamkos has had a little problem keeping the pace, Crosby continues to churn out points in an MVP type performance. Â The Penguins have won 10 straight going into tonight’s game against Toronto, and Crosby has a 16 game point streak, which has certainly helped the Pens cause.
Marc-Andre Fleury: He struggled out of the gate to start the season, including giving up four goals on 14 shots in the loss to the Maple Leafs early in the season, but Fleury has regained his form over the past month, and has been a key component to the Penguins winning streak. Â During Pittsburgh’s streak, the netminder has compiled a save percentage of .941
Kris Letang: He leads all defenseman in All Star votes, and for good reason. Â Crosby has been getting a lot of the press, but Kris Letang continues to put together a real solid season on the back end for the Penguins. Â During this streak the Penguins are on, Letang has contributed nine points, and continues to show responsibility in his own end.
Clarke MacArthur: MacArthur has five multi point games this season for Toronto, a pretty good number for a player on a team that has been routinely deprived of goal scoring. Â MacArthur had a two goal night in Washington on Monday, including the heroic game tying goal with just over one minute to play in regulation time. Â He is second on the Maple Leafs in goals scored, and leads the team in points with 21.
Kris Versteeg: After a bit of a slow start offensively, Versteeg is starting to feel comfortable in blue and white, and the benefits are beginning to show. Â He’s beginning to score clutch goals (see Saturday’s game tying tally with 40 seconds on the clock) and is producing at a torrid pace right now. Â Versteeg has 13 points in his last 16 games.
Mikhail Grabovski: With two points in his last two games, and a highlight reel shootout goal of the year candidate under his belt, Mikhail Grabovski is getting things done for the Leafs this season. Â Leafs fans are getting to see a little bit of a different Grabovski this year, a player who is more composed with the puck, and more willing to go to dirty areas and take hits to make plays. Â He is on pace for a career high in points, and has been a key member of the Leafs offense.
The Goalie Match-Up
It looks like Marc Andre Fleury will start for the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Leafs may counter with J.S. Giguere. Â Fleury of course has been a key part of the Penguins win streak. Â He sports a 2.35 GAA and a .912 save percentage for the season.
Giguere, meanwhile, has looked good during his time between the pipes for Toronto this season, but a combination of injuries and inconsistent team play in front of him have led to his numbers being a little lower than perhaps they should be. Â For his efforts this season Giguere has a 2.82 GAA and a .893 save percentage. He could be returning to action tonight after tweaking his groin in Saturday’s shootout win over the Bruins.
If Giguere isn’t good to go tonight, the Leafs will have no doubts turning to Jonas Gustavsson, who is showing great improvement in his second year in the National Hockey League. Â Gustavsson sports a .908 save percentage and a 2.75 GAA. Â Despite having a losing record, Gustavsson has brought stability to the nets, and has given the Maple Leafs a chance to win every game he has started.
Penguins: Jordan Staal (broken hand), Mike Comrie (lower body)
Toronto: Mike Brown (broken finger), Dion Phaneuf (leg laceration)
Keys To The Game:
An obvious key to the game would be for the Maple Leafs to shut down Sidney Crosby, but who’s kidding. Â With a player the calibre of Sidney Crosby, you can only hope to contain him, and when it comes to this season, that is proving to be quite a difficult task. Â Not only is he on a streak, but he seems to consistently play well against the Maple Leafs.
For the Maple Leafs tonight the biggest thing to key in on would be an early start. Â While coming from behind has worked against Boston and Washington, one can only go to the well so many times before it dries up, and when facing a team that has been unbeatable as of late, the last thing a team like Toronto wants to do is give them an early lead, something to build on.
For the Maple Leafs, a strong forecheck and net presence early on will go a big way towards establishing the tone of play. Â If they let the Penguins dictate the play like they allowed Washington, Toronto could be in for a long night.
However, despite the fact the victories over Boston and Washington were anything but pretty, it may in fact be something for the Leafs to build on. Â A little confidence that the team can play and score with the top teams in the Conference could go along way to gaining some consistency for this group.
Game time is 7Pm on TSN
Questions or comments? Â email me at [email protected]