Toronto Maple Leafs (30-29-7, 67 pts) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (39-21-5, 83 pts)
MORNING SKATE BUZZ
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins host the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight and with a win, they can move six points behind the conference leading New York Rangers.
Riding a six game winning streak, the Penguins are starting to put some heat on the Rangers (42-16-7) who lead the conference with 91 points.
The Penguins who are 21-8-2 at home this season, hold a two point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers (37-21-7, 81 pts) for the No. 4 seed. Both teams have played 65 games.
The Leafs lost to Boston 5-4 last night and have dropped 11 of 13 games. They are 14-16-2 on the road this season.
PENS 18-4-1 IN LAST 23 GAMES
The Penguins are 18-4-1 since Jan. 13 and have been led by Evgeni Malkin (38G-43A-81Pts) and Marc Andre Fleury (35-14-3, 2.29 GAA, .915 sv%). Malkin who is tied with Steven Stamkos for the NHL points lead (81 pts), has 21 goals and 15 assists since Jan. 13.
Malkin has been dominant at home most night, collecting 35 points in his last 19 home games, averaging 1.84 points per game at home
Meanwhile, Fleury has moved in Vezina consideration, going 16-2-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average in his last 19 starts.
He has been tremendous in his last five games, going 5-0-0 with a 1.18 GAA and .970 save percentage during that span.
Fleury is 41-11-in the month of March since the 2006-2007 season.
“He has been real solid in there,” head coach Dan Bylsma said of Fleury on Monday night. “The consistency with which he’s played has probably been the biggest thing for us.”
Updated 11:38 am: Head coach Dan Bylsma said Brad Thiessen will get the start in goal, making his second career start. Fleury gets the night off.
Defenseman Deryk Engelland will miss his second straight game due to a lower body injury.
That will give defenseman Brian Strait another opportunity to impress in front of Penguin management. Strait had a team-high four blocked shots in 12:19 of ice time vs the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night.
Strait played a strong game vs Coyotes and with Strait in the lineup, the Penguins have a good mix of three left handed defensemen and three right handed defensemen.
Kris Letang and Dustin Jeffrey also didn’t skate. Those two won’t play tonight.
Upfront, the Penguins will use the same lineup and Eric Tangradi will be a healthy scratch for the second straight game.
The Penguins used the following lines:
Kunitz – Malkin – Neal
Sullivan – Staal – Dupuis
Cooke – Vitale – Kennedy
Asham – Adams – Park
Sidney Crosby skated with his teammates for a second straight day and word out of the organization is Crosby feels Sunday is truly a strong possibility for a return and he discussed that internally with head coach Dan Bylsma prior to when he spoke with the media yesterday I’m told.
“I’m going to give myself days, for sure, of contact,” Crosby said on Tuesday. “If you look at our schedule, we have two more practices, I think, this week. No sooner than Sunday (versus Boston) I would say, but I’m not going to sit here and put a date on it. It would be total guesswork.”
NOTES: The Maple Leafs are expected to be without scoring winger Joffrey Lupul who leads the team with 42 assists…..The Penguins are unveiling the statue of Mario Lemieux at 12:00 p.m. The statue resembles Lemieux in a game during the 1988 season. It will be broadcasted live on Root Sports.