You get the sense the Leafs are starting to reach a seminal point of their season. They’re inching further into the second half of the short schedule, games are growing in importance, pressure is mounting, and they’re facing their first significant bout of adversity in the form of a three-game losing streak. It doesn’t get much easier with the Penguins returning to town tonight.
The Leafs’ third period comeback to earn a point last Saturday in their eventual 5-4 shootout loss should give them some confidence headed into this one. They found an extra gear in the third and the Penguins had big trouble slowing them down. If the Leafs had a few more minutes in overtime I was pretty confident they were going to pull out a great comeback win. The Leafs also defeated the Penguins 5-2 in their fourth game of the season, so they have solved Marc Andre Fleury with relative ease and appear to match up reasonably well against Pittsburgh.
The big challenge with the Penguins is of course obvious, but it’s reduced by a half with James van Riemsdyk taking Evengi Malkin out of the lineup for this return leg. This should mean Carlyle gives Grabovski the Crosby assignment, which can only go better than how Bozak and his line fared against Sid for the first 40 minutes last Saturday.
Ben Scrivens will get the start after taking over for Reimer in Winnipeg. For a backup, it’s always an opportunity you’ll want to take advantage of when the starter is pulled and you get the next start.
John Michael Liles will take the place of Mike Kostka on the second pairing beside Carl Gunnarsson. It seems Carlyle is in love with the Holzer-Phaneuf pairing and will stick by it in spite of how shaky it looked for the first 40 against these very Penguins last Saturday. I’d have kept Kostka in, slotted Liles beside him, taken out Holzer and put Gunnarsson on the top pairing with Dion shifting to the right, but as it turns out I don’t call the shots from my blogging perch. I’m curious to see what dynamic Liles adds to the group and if he can help with the puck movement off the back end.