Published on January 23rd, 2013 | by James Conley0
Penguins Precap 3: Toronto Maple Leafs
Pittsburgh is off to a 2-0-0 start while the Rangers and Flyers are a collective 0-5-0. They can get a real jump on the Atlantic as well as their best start since the last owner lockout-shortened season in 1995 by taking a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto is 1-1-0 after beating Montreal in their opener before dropping a 2-1 decision to Buffalo. The Leafs are kind of in flux. Former GM Brian Burke was fired just before the start of the season because apparently the new CBA he helped to craft featured pork barrel riders on press box dress codes. Also, Randy Carlyle is in his first full season as Leafs head coach after being hired midway through last season to replace Ron Wilson.
The Leafs also just handed Joffrey Lupul a shiny new contract. Lupul earned an extension worth $5.25 million after posting 25 goals and 67 points in 66 games last season. He and Phil Kessel are the big scoring pivots in Toronto, but so far Nazem Kadri is responsible for two of their three goals this season. Toronto has kept their goals against down (also at 3), but the offense has yet to find its groove.
Pittsburgh, by contrast, has nine goals in its first two games (two empty-netters), three of which have come from James Neal. Neal became a 40-goal, 80-point player last season on Evgeni Malkin’s line. The chemistry has immediately returned. Neal’s 3 goals are still good for second in the NHL despite having played fewer games than some teams.
Malkin has earned the primary assist on each of Neal’s three goals.
The Penguins defense has also been a thing to marvel at, coming off the dismantling last Spring. The Pens have allowed four goals in their matches with the Flyers and Rangers, but the penalty kill is 8-for-9 through two games and the new pairings of Martin-Orpik and Letang-Niskanen have been impressive so far.
Wednesday Pre-Game Audio
Marc-Andre Fleury will get his second start after stopping 26 of 27 in Philadelphia last Saturday. Flower was strong in his first game back. He won his only game against Toronto last season and is 11-7-3 against the Leafs in his career.
James Reimer will get his first start of the season Wednesday. Ben Scrivens started the first two games, allowing three goals against while getting the split decisions. Reimer finished with a 14-14-4 record last season after missing time with injury. He won his only career start against the Penguins, a shutout in which he turned away 25 shots.
The Penguins and Maple Leafs split their 2012 season series two games apiece and neither side has dominated the match-up in recent years. It was a February blowout loss to the Leafs in 2009 that led to Michel Therrien’s departure and Dan Bylsma’s hiring. So, there’s some history between these clubs despite Toronto’s well-documented futility.
Match-up to Watch
The Penguins power play is 4-for-8, mostly because of the work of Malkin and Neal. Toronto’s penalty killing unit hasn’t finished outside the worst third of the league for like three lockouts now. Pittsburgh has four power play goals this season to five at even strength with an empty netter in each situation. At some point, the Pens will play a close game that demands even-strength scoring. But probably not Wednesday.
Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis
Tangradi – Malkin – Neal
Cooke – Sutter – Kennedy
Glass – Vitale – Adams
Letang – Niskanen
Orpik – Martin
Engelland – Despres
It’s the home opener in Pittsburgh, where more than a thousand fans had to be turned away from last Wednesday’s scrimmage because the building had filled to a standing room only “sellout” by the end of the first period. Figures to be a similar scene this Wednesday.