Pittsburgh Penguins (37-21-6, 80pts) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (27-27-9, 63pts)
When: Wednesday March 2nd, 2011 | Where: Air Canada Center
TOR Home Record: 14-11-7 | PIT Road Record: 17-10-4
Last 10: TOR 5-1-4 | PIT 3-5-2
Game Notes: The Penguins return to Toronto tonight looking to extend their recent domination of the Maple Leafs.
Pittsburgh (37-21-6, 80pts), fourth in the Eastern Conference, has been off since a 6-5 shootout victory at Toronto on Saturday, its fourth win in the last five meetings against Toronto and third straight at Air Canada Centre.
Pittsburgh’s five regulation goals were its most since a 5-2 win in Montreal on Jan. 12. The Penguins have scored 15 goals in their last three games in Toronto.
Without star forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh has just 26 goals in their last 13 games and prior to Saturday’s breakout game offensively, Pittsburgh had scored just 17 goals in their previous 10 games.
With 17 games remaining in the regular season, every point is crucial and the Penguins bid for home ice in the first round is tightening as the Washington Capitals (34-20-10, 78pts) have closed the gap for the No. 4 seed.
Pittsburgh holds a 5 point lead over No. 6 Montreal (34-23-7, 75pts) and a 10 point lead over No. 7 New York (33-28-4, 70pts)
The Maple Leafs played Sunday afternoon, losing to Atlanta 3-2 in overtime. Toronto has recorded points in 9 of their last 10 games but remain 6 points out of a playoff spot.
James Reimer who is 4-0-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average in his last seven games, will get the start for Toronto. Marc Andre Fleury seeking his 29th win of the season, will be in goal for Pittsburgh.
Player to Watch: Alex Kovalev
38 year old winger Alex Kovalev is a motivated player right now and is beaming with confidence during his second stint in Pittsburgh. His presence alone appears to have added some confidence into a depleted Penguins hockey club.
For all of the concerns about Kovalev being a fit on and off the ice, thus far he has been a perfect fit, especially inside the locker room where he’s meshed well with the players. “We are one big family and we all want the same thing…which is to win the Stanley Cup, ” Kovalev said on Tuesday.
On Tuesday it was back to memory lane for Kovalev.
“It brings back a lot of memories, ” a smiling Kovalev said yesterday in practicing at Southpointe, where the Penguins use to practice most of the time during his first stint with Pittsburgh.
“I drove all around the city and went to some old places to eat. It doesn’t feel like it’s almost 10 years. It’s amazing that a lot of things still look the same, and I am just happy to be here again, ” Kovalev said.
What’s really caught my attention with Kovalev is how determined he is to show that he is still an impact player. “Physically strong, feel I can be the same player I use to be here, ” Kovalev said. “I am still in pretty good shape and I can still keep up with those guys. I don’t see any difference when playing the game.”
Kovalev who has 7 goals in his last 12 games, also appears to have caught the eye of his head coach. Bylsma has appeared giddy when talking about Kovalev’s skill set as he see’s him up close.
Kovalev mentioned yesterday that he enjoys playing with James Neal who Kovalev feels opens up space for him. Kovalev and Neal will be centered by Mark Letestu tonight on the top line.
Letestu said he never imagined being a No. 1 center this season but is looking forward to the opportunity.
Kovalev also mentioned yesterday that he is “hopeful” to play with Sidney Crosby at some point this season.
Kennedy, Martin to return to lineup: Pittsburgh continues to slowly get healthy and their blueline will get an added boost with the return of Paul Martin. Winger Tyler Kennedy will also get back into the lineup. He will skate on a line with Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal.
Neal – Letestu – Kovalev
Cooke – Staal – Kennedy
Talbot – Jeffrey – Dupuis
Rupp – Adams – Conner
Martin – Michalek
Letang – Engelland
Niskanen – Lovejoy
Marc Andre Fleury to start in goal.