Gameday #25: @ Toronto Maple LeafsPosted: 09/03/2013
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre, 7:00 PM, Root Sports, NHL Network (local blackout), CBC (Hockey Night in Canada)
Along with the Canadiens the Maple Leafs are officially the most pleasantly surprising team in the Eastern Conference this year. They have the fourth best overall record and if the season ended today the Leafs would be the number 5 seed. The first time they would be in the playoffs since 2004. And it shouldn’t really come as a surprise, the Leafs have a gritty defense led by captain Dion Phaneuf and a surprising amount of speed and skill at forward led by Phil Kessel and the finally freed Nazem Kadri. Coming into the season goaltender seemed to be the only open question (hence the insane amount of Bobby Lu to the Leafs rumors), but Ben Scrivens and James Reimer have been perhaps the finest tandem in the league so far this year.
The key for the Penguins tonight is to exploit the youth and inexperience of the Leafs, their defense can hit, but if Phaneuf is any indication, they can be beaten with hard skating.
The Pens need to play disciplined defense and frustrate the point of release for the Leafs. They have some shooters but the gritty net crashers on the Leafs aren’t exactly Kevin Stevens-like.
For the Penguins tonight Simon Despres looks to be back in while Mark Eaton looks to be getting a break. Nothing wrong with that, he deserves it after that monumental shot block in Thursday’s game.
Looks like the Pens are going to continue to roll with Dustin Jeffrey as the fourth line center over Joe Vitale. Doesn’t really make sense to me. Jeffrey is a third liner with occasional second line flash whereas Vitale is all heart, soul, and passion: perfect for the fourth line. I’m not saying I don’t like Jeffrey a little more, but I think the Pens are better with Vitale on the fourth line. Don’t have a really good feel for the goaltending situation but it looks like MAF is getting the nod. If MAF hadn’t been pulled in Philly this would have been an obvious Vokoun start: on the road, the first of a back-to-back, and so on and so forth. Whatever, I’m going to tomorrow night’s game against the Islanders and its been years since I saw a game where Flower was the starting goaltender, only seems right I guess.
This isn’t exactly a must win game but the Pens could really send a strong message to the rest of the league if they can find a way to win without giving up 800 goals tonight. A nice 4-2 game against a good opponent could do a lot of good right now.
The Mecca of Hockey? Go Pens.