The Maple Leafs will take on the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins in the front half of another back-to-back on the Hockey Hall of Fame weekend (7 p.m. EST, TSN4).
Considering the circumstances — starting their third-string goaltender twice and playing him in the third period on Saturday — the Leafs collecting five of six points against three of the top four teams in the standings has been a much-needed and reassuring stretch of hockey for the Leafs and their fan base. While it’s basically a predictable outcome at this point, the team was very much able to elevate their play against elite competition. Tonight, they will look to build on their recent performances against a Penguins team that has had an absolutely brutal couple of weeks but always has the potential to be a sleeping giant with a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup.
After starting the year 4-0-1, the Penguins dropped seven consecutive games before finally getting back in the win column on Wednesday. The lone point they collected over that seven-game losing streak was an overtime loss against the Bruins in which the Penguins blew a 5-2 lead. It has been a truly awful couple of weeks of hockey in Pittsburgh.
However, after a 4-1 win in Washington, the Penguins are hoping to build some momentum toward a turnaround. If they could get their combined special teams out of the bottom five in the NHL, there are some promising signs at 5v5 beneath the surface, including a rank of seventh in the NHL in expected goal share this season.
The Leafs‘ lineup will stay the exact same from Tuesday’s matchup, and there is a positive development in the crease. While Erik Källgren will be playing on Friday, Matt Murray has been practicing this week as his return inches closer, with tomorrow’s game against Vancouver a real possibility for just his second start of the season in the Leafs net.
On Hall of Fame weekend, it’s extra special to follow up the ceremony with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner all healthy and competing in the same game; the odds are looking pretty good there could be five future HHOfers in that group. All are at or around a point per game this season, even with up-and-down starts from their teams.
There will be another moment of significance before this game: The Leafs will honour legendary defenceman Börje Salming as part of the Hall of Fame festivities. Salming is facing a tough fight in his battle against ALS, which unfortunately has taken away his ability to speak. Please give Michael Langlois’ tribute to Salming a read and consider donating to ALS causes today.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Sullivan on his team’s inconsistency to start the season:
There has been a lot of volatility in the game with our team… One of the things we are talking about is putting a game on the ice that gives us an opportunity to have success but also gives us an opportunity to have consistent success. It is shift in and shift out. That is a conversation we are having with our team with hopes of eliminating some of the volatility in our game.
Sheldon Keefe on what Borje Salming means to the Maple Leafs:
It has a whole new meaning when you become coach of the Leafs. Like so many others, he is the guy that when you think of the Leafs, you think of him — in particular when it comes to the European players, which are so prominent around the league but even on our team now. We have a number of Swedish players specifically that have a bond with him. He has even taken time to spend time with them.
He was here last season and we chatted with him briefly. It is very clear to me that he is a proud Maple Leaf. Like all of our alumni, when you have that connection, I think it helps your current team. You see the impact that the team has had and the city has had on the players that have come before him.
I was young for a lot of his career. A lot of it was before I was even born. But you still feel his impact — even more so now in my current role.
Rasmus Sandin on what Salming means to him and if he’s ever him advice over the years:
He is an icon back in Sweden and here in Toronto. I have gotten the chance to meet him a couple of times and talk to him. He is just an iconic guy you look up to.
He is just a great guy overall. I don’t know if he really gave me any advice. He just said, “Look out for the Toronto media.”
When I got drafted, he took me for lunch, actually. Somehow, we got in touch, and he wanted to go to lunch. That is something I will remember forever.
He is just an icon. It will be something I always look back at.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#89 Nick Robertson – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#58 Michael Bunting – #47 Pierre Engvall – #19 Calle Järnkrok
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kämpf – #62 Denis Malgin
#78 TJ Brodie – #3 Justin Holl
#44 Morgan Rielly – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#55 Mark Giordano – #38 Rasmus Sandin
Starter: #50 Erik Källgren
#80 Keith Petruzzelli
Extras: Wayne Simmonds, Filip Král, Jordie Benn
Injured: Kyle Clifford, Jake Muzzin, Matt Murray, Ilya Samsonov
Pittsburgh Penguins Projected Lines
#58 Jake Guentzel – #87 Sidney Crosby – #17 Bryan Rust
#16 Jason Zucker – #71 Evgeni Malkin – #67 Rickard Rakell
#23 Brock McGinn – #77 Jeff Carter – #43 Danton Heinen
#36 Filip Hallander – #25 Ryan Poehling – #15 Josh Archibald
#28 Marcus Petersson – #58 Kris Letang
#73 Pierre-Oliver Joseph – #26 Jeff Petry
#8 Brian Dumoulin – #44 Jan Rutta
Starter: #1 Casey DeSmith
#35 Tristan Jarry
Injured: Teddy Blueger