Toronto Maple Leafs (2-0) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (1-2)
When: October 13, 2010 | Where: CONSOL Energy Center
The Penguins hope the third time is the charm for giving fans their first win in the new barn Wednesday. The Toronto Maple Leafs, perhaps surprisingly, are one of the league’s undefeated teams at 2-0-0. Last season, the Pens took three of four from Toronto. For all of the latest action from Wednesday’s morning skate, check out our “Pittsburgh Penguins Links Section“
BACK TO THE WELL
Like most teams in the NHL, the Pens feasted on the Maple Leafs last year. Sidney Crosby scored 6 goals in the four games against the Leafs in 2009-10, and the power play – already playing below expectations – converted over 30 percent of its chances against Toronto going back to 2008-09 (8 for 26).
The power play thus far has been a grim reminder of last year’s woeful unit. Through three games the man-advantage is 2-for-17 (19th in the league). Those goals came from Alex Goligoski against Philadelphia and Mark Letestu against New Jersey.
The power play needs to get going. For the last few years, the Maple Leafs have been the team to do so against, finishing at 74.7 percent on the penalty kill in consecutive years (the league’s worst such percentage since the mid-90s.)
The Leafs though are 7-for-7 on penalty kill chances in two games this season.
The Penguins will enter the game with a new rotation for their 1st power play unit.
Any concerns about replacing Sergei Gonchar’s production from the blueline have to be silenced, at least so far. Paul Martin leads the Penguins in points (1G, 3A). Alex Goligoski is tied with Mark Letestu for the team lead in goals (2). Martin, Letang and Goligoski are three of the team’s five leading scorers through three games.
Paul Martin played an inspired game against his former team Monday. He grabbed an assist on Mark Letestu’s power play goal and scored an empty netter to ice the game.
On the goal, Martin had a clear opportunity to pass the empty netter off to Craig Adams, who is looking for his first regular season goal since 2008. He may have, if not for being booed by New Jersey fans each time he touched the puck.
Pittsburgh has struggled to get production at the forward position. Sidney Crosby (1 assist) and Evgeni Malkin (1 goal) have combined for just two points and Chris Kunitz (2 assists), Mark Letestu (2 goals) are the only Penguins forwards with 2 or more points.
Crosby and Malkin were held off the board against New Jersey, though they created chances for themselves. Mike Comrie has yet to register a point and is expected to be a healthy scratch tonight. The third and fourth lines may need to chip in as well, both offensively and defensively.
QUIETLY VERY GOOD
Toronto’s defensive corps is beginning to resemble the championship unit Brian Burke assembled in Anaheim a few years ago. Headlining the group is newly anointed Captain Dion Phaneuf.
Phaneuf joins former Anaheim Duck Francois Beauchemin to form the team’s top defensive pairing. Tomas Kaberle, the longest tenured Leafs player, is still with the team despite offseason efforts to move him for a top-six winger. Kaberle will be paired with Luke Schenn.
Former Montreal Canadien Mike Komisarek is still not back getting top-pairing minutes and is working in as the third pairing with Carl Gunnarsson. Former Red Wing Brett Lebda round out the top-seven.
Jeff Finger was placed on waivers Tuesday.
LEAFS NEW ADDITIONS
The Leafs have some new faces in the lineup, including three former Penguins. Mike Zigomanis leads the Leafs in faceoff percentage (72.7 percent). Colby Armstrong signed with the team over the offseason, coming from Atlanta. Tim Brent, who played one game with the Penguins in 2007, has two goals on the third line.
The biggest acquisition is former Blackhawk Kris Versteeg. A product of Exodus: Chicago, Versteeg gets top line duties with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
Former Buffalo Sabre Clarke MacArthur has scored two goals in two games, tied with Kessel and Brent for the team lead.
The offense was an area of concern heading into the season. They managed three goals in a season-opening win over Montreal, and landed five more on 38 shots against lowly Ottawa.
GIGUERE NOT IN NET
Part of the reason for the Leafs’ early success has been the presence of a dependable netminder.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere (also following Brian Burke from Anaheim) has led the team to both of their wins this season, allowing three goals so far (2-0, 1.51 GAA – .935 SV).
Giguere is a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner (2007 with Anaheim). The 33-year old goaltender is competing for the starting job with youngster Jonas Gustavsson who will get the start in goal tonight.
Gustavsson was 16-15-9 last season with a 2.87 goals against average and .902 save percentage.
INJURY CONCERNS MOUNTING ALREADY
After a torrid 9-1 start last season, injuries mounted and the team cooled off (for the remainder of the year). The injury bug is already hitting the Penguins in 2010-11.
Jordan Staal (foot) and Arron Asham (shoulder) remain sidelined with no timetables for their returns.
Brooks Orpik sat out Monday’s tilt with the Devils, and could be held out for at least a few more games. He will not play tonight as lingering effects of offseason hernia surgery are said to be the reason.
Zbynek Michalek injured his shoulder Monday afternoon and did not return. Michalek will not play tonight and is getting a second opinion today as there are concerns inside the organization that the injury could be long-term.
“We have a better diagnosis for Brooks and he’s got a groin strain, ” head coach Dan Bylsma said today. “Michalek is being seen by a physician later this afternoon and we’ll know more about where he’s at tomorrow.”
With lengthy injuries to Alex Goligoski, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Max Talbot, Chris Kunitz and others last season, the Pens lost the momentum of their early dominance, dropped five in a row in November and played .500 hockey for the remainder of the year.
ANDREW HUTCHINSON RECALLED
In response to the Orpik and Michalek injuries, the Pens recalled Andrew Hutchinson from AHL Wilkes Barre-Scranton.
Hutchinson, 30, has played 135 NHL games with three teams (12G, 26A). Hutchinson will look to make his mark in the transition game tonight and the second wave of attack offensively.
He was one of the last players to be sent down before the roster was finalized last week.
In 2010-11, the Pens are averaging 2.33 goals against per game. The defense is averaging 3.33 points per game.
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have been held to two points in three games. Malkin has 34 points (7G, 27A) in 15 career games against Toronto.
The Maple Leafs have not made the postseason since 2003-04.
Phil Kessel has 9 points (5G, 4A) in 15 games against Pittsburgh for his career.
Toronto ranked last in special teams last season (30th in PP and PK percentage).
Toronto is 2-0-0 in its first two games. The Leafs did not win their second tilt of last season until 14 games into the season.
Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis
Tangradi – Letestu – Malkin
Cooke – Talbot – Kennedy
Rupp – Adams – Godard
Martin – Letang
Goligoski – Lovejoy
Hutchinson – Engelland
Marc Andre Fleury will start in goal.
Notes: With Eric Godard making his season debut, Mike Comrie is expected to be scratched upfront. Comrie was the odd-man out during today’s morning skate.
Expect to see Alex Goligoski, Paul Martin and Kris Letang play significant minutes and the Penguins run mostly a 5-man rotation tonight.
Maple Leafs Lineup
Versteeg – Bozak – Kessel
MacArthur – Grabovski – Kulemin
Sjostrom – Brent – Armstrong
Orr – Zigomanis – Brown
Beauchemin – Phaneuf
Kaberle – Schenn
Gunnarsson – Komisarek
Jonas Gustavsson will start in goal
Toronto defenseman Brett Lebda is day-to-day with a shoulder injury