Toronto Maple Leafs
7:00 p.m., Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario
The Last Penguins Game:
March 7, 2013 - Pittsburgh 5, Philadelphia 4 [Recap]
The Maple Leafs are one of the surprises of the shortened NHL seasons as they are now sitting as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference with 30 points and while most, if not all, teams are in the mix for the playoffs this early I am not sure if most would have said that the Leafs were going to be this good.
The Leafs have been in somewhat of a playoff drought and haven't made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season which is pretty remarkable considering that half of the teams make the playoffs and that the Leafs are one of the bigger teams in the entire league. While the start to the season for Toronto might be surprising it is not uncommon as just last year the Leafs raced out of the game to a 9-3-1 record and were a near identical 14-9-2 record after 25 games. While that start was good it was all downhill from there as the Leafs missed the playoffs and finished under .500. The shortened season might help the Leafs as they have less time to collapse but I guess it wouldn't surprise a lot of people if they missed the postseason again.
The Penguins have played the Leafs one time this season already and that came way back in January when they completely dominated the Penguins. It was after the Pens came off back-to-back wins against the Flyers and Rangers and the Leafs came out and were the much faster team and while it was a close game most of the way it really wasn't that close. The Penguins were a step (or two) slow the entire game and it wasn't a fun game to watch.
22 year old center Nazem Kadri has been nothing less than outstanding for the Leafs as he has a team-best 25 points and has scored 11 goals which is second most on the team. Kadri scored the game winner for the Leafs against Ottawa on Wednesday and carries a six game point streak into the game with five goals and ten points in those six games.
The real threat is James van Riemsdyk. The Leafs were able to get JVR from the Flyers for Luke Schenn in a pretty one sided trade and while JVR had a down year last year in Philly he is off to a great start with a team-best 13 goals this season and he pretty much single handedly beat the Penguins earlier this year when he scored a pair of goals and assisted on another.
Where the Leafs have struggled in the past has been in goal but this year James Reimer has been pretty good with a 2.57 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. He has been a little up and down recently but has been more productive than most of the other net minders in the past for the Leafs.
The Penguins will go with nearly the same lineup that they did in Philadelphia and if they give the effort that they did in the second and third periods then it is hard to see the Penguins losing this game. If they play like they did in the first period then they will most certainly lose. It really is that simple.
The only change is that Simon Despres is going to be in for Mark Eaton. I would probably like to see Despres in the lineup for Deryk Engelland but it will probably be a rotation of defenseman throughout the season to keep everyone fresh. We will see how it works.
It was really nice to see what Beau Bennett was able to do on the second line against Philadelphia. I didn't talk about it much in that recap but that was easily his best game of the season and he looked much more comfortable than he has at any other point in the season. he works his balls off to get to lose pucks and if he keeps doing that he is going to be rewarded.
Marc-Andre Fleury will get a chance to get back on the horse after a bad showing in Philadelphia. MAF was about as good as it gets during the month of February but has struggled a little bit in March so hopefully he can get back on track today.
Pittsburgh (16-8-0) (via Penguins website)
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Beau Bennett - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Brandon Sutter - Tyler Kennedy
Tanner Glass - Dustin Jeffrey - Craig Adams
Brooks Orpik- Paul Martin
Kris Letang - Matt Niskanen
Simon Despres - Deryk Engelland
Toronto (15-10-0) (via Penguins website)
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Jay McClement - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Clarke MacArthur - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
Frazer McLaren - David Steckel - Colton Orr
Dion Phaneuf - Korbinian Holzer
Carl Gunnarson - Mike Kostka
Cody Franson - Mark Fraser
The Season Series (Toronto leads 1-0-0)
January 22, 2013 - Toronto 5, Pittsburgh 2