The Toronto Maple Leafs will play host to the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins tonight after dropping their third-straight game in Winnipeg Tuesday.
The Pens, on the other hand, are winners of six in a row and eight of their last 10 games. They’re also coming off an emotional victory over the Bruins, scoring three late goals to rally for a 3-2 decision.
The two teams, who had a spirited contest last week at the Air Canada Centre, appear to be entering this matchup from two opposite ends of the spectrum. The slumping Leafs and the streaking Pens.
The Leafs are on their first three-game losing streak of the year and Tuesday’s performance saw them hit rock bottom.
The power play’s woes were most evident with a lack of creativity. This translated into poor puck movement in all facets of the game. Tonight’s band-aid solution? Jean-Michael Liles.
Liles has been confirmed as being in the lineup tonight. However, if positive results don’t follow, we could see the return of Jake Gardiner sometime soon. Gardiner has been lighting up the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies and his puck-moving ability could certainly help the Leafs.
As for the game the tonight, the Leafs will still be without Joffrey Lupul and the Pens will be without Evgeni Malkin. No real surprises in either lineup tonight other than the anticipated return of recent healthy scratch Liles.
Who To Watch For
Despite Toronto’s 5-2 shellacking Tuesday night, Phil Kessel found the twine twice. He now has five goals in as many games.
Although it came to an end last game, Sidney Crosby was riding an eight-game point streak. In Malkin’s absence, he’s picked up the slack and has been the core of Pittsburgh’s success all season.
James Neal has also elevated his game during their superstar’s injury spell, scoring four goals and nine points in six contests.
Head To Head
Tonight will mark the final meeting between these two clubs this year. Each has taken a win in the first two games. The Leafs took the opening contest by way of a 5-2 victory. But that was in just the third game of the season.
The second meeting will likely have a greater implication on tonight’s matchup. Just five days ago, the Leafs lost the thriller in a shootout. That game also exposed each team’s primary concern as of late: goals against.
Many Leaf fans have taken to twitter as the proverbial panic button. The main concern seems to be another late-season fallout and the source of blame appears to be the goaltending.
Despite being a stellar tandem all year, James Reimer and Ben Scrivens have struggled to keep the goal count down even in their strong performances.
The problem area can be seen beginning on February 27 in a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Since then, the Leafs have only held the opposition to less than four goals just once over the seven-game span.
The Pens have seemed to solve their problem over the last two games, their last high goal-count coming in Toronto. However, before their last two wins, Pittsburgh allowed at least three goals for seven games in a row. In five of them, they allowed at least four goals against.
Statistics aside, goaltending has been a question mark down the stretch for both squads. But it has been the Penguins who have been able to regroup in back-to-back home games.
For the Leafs, head coach Randy Carlyle had to have been pulling his hair out over the sloppy defense and neutral-zone turnovers displayed in Winnipeg.
Carlyle has said before, he does remind the players of last year’s meltdown. Now that all of Leafs Nation is reminding them of that exact event, expect the Leafs to enter tonight’s game with some added motivation against a Cup favourite.