Penguins Game Day
When: December 8 2010 | Where: Consol Energy Center
POST MORNING SKATE REACTIONS
Locker Room Talking Points from Dupuis, Zbynek Michalek, Chris Conner
Dupuis on continuity of his line: “It’s one of those things where when you play with two players as a line for a while, you get use to where they’re going to be and sometimes without looking, you throw the puck somewhere on the ice where you feel guys are going to be, so there’s a little less thinking, more reacting and anticipating of the players out there.”
Dupuis on Crosby leading by example: “Oh never, obviously, I don’t think anyone has, “Dupuis said when asked if he’s seen Sidney Crosby play at this level before.
“He’s had some nice points streaks before and this one’s also special but at the same time he’s playing so good defensive wise, winning draws, playing good in his own zone, he’s blocking shots, and he’s making sure as a leader we see what’s good and we try to follow what he does.”
Michalek on continuity with Paul Martin: “We’ve been playing well and team’s been playing well and we’ve been getting more confidence as well. We’re getting use to the system, being both new guys. It took some time to adjust but like I said, we’ve been playing well.”
“We complement each other really well, Paul is really good with the puck and it’s sometimes amazing the type of plays he makes. He’s so patient with the puck and it seems like he’s barely skating but he beats so many guys. It’s amazing…. and I really like to play with him and we play a puck position game and make those passes to our forwards and get them the puck.
Michalek on defending against the Leafs: “Just like any other team. We want to worry about our game first. We believe that if we play our game, we can beat any team in the league. The team like you said is struggling to score goals but they have some talented players on their team.”
“If we give them any room they are going to score goals no matter what, even if they are struggling to score goals this season. We have to make sure we play good defensively, don’t give them much space, keep them to the outside and make sure Flower see’s the puck.”
Chris Conner on preparing for a physical Leafs team: “I just think I prepare the same way as I do everynight. We have to get pucks deep and get to the net.”
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS AT PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
New York was a solid team playing at home. Atlanta was on a five game winning streak. Columbus was in a playoff position in the strong Western Conference. New Jersey had won six of the last seven games against Pittsburgh.
Each game in the streak brings with it the reasons the Penguins will finally be tripped up. Nonetheless, the team continues its strong play, winning with a combination of stellar defense, Sidney Crosby and the kind of night-in, night-out effort usually reserved for the NHL postseason.
Sports writers have run out of superlatives to describe Pittsburgh’s play. The team is on a run it hasn’t experienced since the late 90s. If one needs any more confirmation that Pittsburgh is fast becoming a hockey town, consider that Kris Letang leads all NHL defensemen in all-star voting….As a write-in candidate.
Toronto beat Pittsburgh in their first meeting in the season, one of four wins that saw the Leafs jump out of the gates to a league-best 4-0-0 start. The Leafs couldn’t keep pace, sinking through the standings to a current mark of 10-12-4, 3rd-worst in the Eastern Conference.
All systems are go in Pittsburgh. The Pens have taken 10 of their last 10, have points in 13 straight and 14 of 15 going back to November. Sidney Crosby continues drawing praise from across the NHL, as he drives the play of the team and holds a comfortable points lead over Steven Stamkos (48 points to 40).
Marc-Andre Fleury has been the biggest beneficiary of the streak, watching his record jump to 12-6-1 (2.35 GAA and .912 save percentage are also league’s better than his numbers through the first month of the season). Fleury is 11-0-1 in his last 12. His GAA, minus the 1-6-0 start, sits at 1.65.
Fleury will start in goal tonight
Toronto took the first of the four game series in October, beating Pittsburgh at home. The Pens opened the CONSOL Energy Center with three losses, but have moved that mark to 9-5-1 since.
Toronto is 3-0-1 in their last four visits to Pittsburgh.
TOR wins 4-3
Goals: Kunitz, Talbot, Crosby
Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury
Pittsburgh is atop the league, pacing all NHL teams with a 19-8-2 mark.
19-8-2, 40 pts.
1st Atlantic, 1st East
9-5-1 Home, 10-3-1 Road
10-0-0 Last 10
Pittsburgh continues to dominate opponents in all areas of the ice. The team is 3rd in goals against (2.3) and 2nd on the penalty kill (88.8 percent). The transition to defensive powerhouse is new in Pittsburgh, where a dynamic, high-scoring offense has traditionally carried the team to wins.
Pittsburgh is third in the NHL in shots against at 27.7 per game, hovering at or near the best such number in the league all-year. Last season, Chicago led the league gate-to-gate in shots against, eventually taking home the Cup.
Offensively, the Pens are doing enough to win, if not lighting up the league. The team is 8th in goals (3.1 per game). Despite being held scoreless against the Devils, the power play is 12th overall (17.1 percent), significantly better than it has been since 2008-09.
Pittsburgh’s goal differential of plus-24 is second best in the NHL, bettered only by Philadelphia (plus-26).
10-12-4, 24 pts.
5th Northeast, 13th East
7-5-3 Home, 3-7-1 Road
5-4-1 Last 10
Toronto has picked up their game of late, playing .500 hockey over their last ten games after enduring a long drought that again brought them to the basement of the Eastern Conference.
Statistically, the Leafs are worse even than their 13th-place record. Toronto is 27th in goals per game (2.2) and 20th in goals against (2.8).
On special teams, Toronto has actually improved. Their 19th-ranked power play (15.6 percent) is an upgrade over last year’s unit, which finished in the bottom three of the league in that category.
The Maple Leafs’ PK is woeful. Killing just 75.3 percent of its chances, the unit is next to last in the league.
Toronto’s minus-17 goal differential is a telling sign that this is still a team in a rebuilding phase.
Sidney Crosby isn’t the only player padding his stats on the strength of his points scoring streak. Linemate Chris Kunitz is playing at the level, perhaps for the first time in his tenure as a Penguin, that the team anticipated when they acquired him from Anaheim two seasons ago.
Kunitz is fourth on the team with 17 points (8G – 9A). He, Crosby and Pascal Dupuis (13 points) have developed a noticeable chemistry on the top line, and have been one of the many standouts of the recent streak.
Anyone who saw his one-time goal against New Jersey Monday saw a Chris Kunitz that this team hasn’t yet experienced. In light of his exceptional play over the last month, that goal was video game-good.
Pittsburgh’s defensive corps is solidly among the best in the league now.
The unit is led by Kris Letang, who is a team best plus-15. Letang also has 26 points (5 goals, 21 assists). His 26 points and 21 assists are both second on the team behind Crosby.
Elsewhere, Alex Goligoski has quietly improved his own plus-minus to plus-11, third best on the team. Goligoski was unreliable with the puck and in the defensive zone prior to the streak, but seems to have worked himself out of that lull in bringing his rating back to a double-digit plus.
Among all Penguins defensemen, only Zbynek Michalek is a minus (minus-3), also an improvement on that number from this time a month ago.
The Penguins continue to lead the league in points from defensemen (63).
Toronto has been getting its scoring from a few surprising places this season.
New acquisition Clarke MacArthur leads the team in points with 21 (9G – 12A), including two goals in a come from behind victory against Washington. MacArthur also landed two goals against Pittsburgh in October.
Nikolai Kulemin (17) and Mikhail Grabovski (18) have been surprising offensive contributors this season, with 35 points between them. They trail MacArthur for the team lead in points.
Forward Phil Kessel is fifth on the team with 15 points, but leads Toronto with 10 goals.
The Leafs have a few former Penguins on their roster. Colby Armstrong has missed 16 games due to injury, and has just one goal in ten games played.
Mike Zigomanis has played just 8 games for the Leafs, splitting time with their minor league affiliate. The faceoff specialist has won just 52.5 percent of his faceoffs with Toronto.
The tandem of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson have been mediocre for the Leafs this season. Giguere, day-to-day with a groin injury, is 6-5-2 (2.82 – .893). Gustavsson is 4-7-2 (2.75 – .908). It was Gustavsson who beat Pittsburgh in the first meeting between the teams.
Marc-Andre Fleury has made a late push to earn his all-star nomination. Fleury is 12-6-1 overall (2.35 – .912). Brent Johnson is 7-2-1 (2.00 – .931).
Jordan Staal remains out for at least a few more weeks. Head coach Dan Bylsma said today that Staal is not close to enough to determine target date.
Mike Comrie remains out of the lineup with a lower body injury, though he likely would be a healthy scratch most nights if not injured.
Evgeni Malkin will be out with a nagging knee injury.
Toronto will be without Mike Brown (finger, 4-6 weeks), Giguere (groin) and Captain Dion Phaneuf (1-2 weeks, leg). Giguere and Phaneuf will play tomorrow night against the Philadelphia Flyers.
*James Conley and Will DePaoli contributed to this report*