Gameday #28: @ Toronto Maple Leafs

penguinsvsleafs

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Toronto Maple Leafs

Air Canada Center, 7:00 PM, Root Sports

This is a very understated game for the Penguins: maybe they don’t have to win, but again, the Leafs aren’t going anywhere and getting wins against future playoff teams is a good way to gain confidence and relevancy.

All of a sudden the Pens are looking better in their defensive zone. The Penguins have only allowed three goals in their last six periods and perhaps most impressively they only gave up 16 shots all game against the Bruins. No doubt that the Bruins were content to dump and chase and didn’t forecheck after the first period, but still, the first step to good defense is to limit the opponent’s zone time, and that’s what the Pens have done in the last two games.

Mike Colligan opened your minds and poured his massive load of hockey IQ into it again earlier today. He breaks down the magic of POP, Pass off Pads in the Penguins’ offensive zone success so far this year. There’s no secret that the Pens purposefully aim for the goaltender’s pads on a 2 on 1 rush, what you might not understand is the advanced statistical reasoning behind it. Epic read right there.

On the flip side, the guys at Maple Leafs’ blog Pension Plan Puppets think that the Leafs are breaking apart at the seams. They dropped their most recent game 5-2 to the Jets and they no longer seem to have any of the flash that they did through the first two months of the season. If you want to see what it’s like to root for a beleagueared franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in nearly a decade (and forgot about the Pirates) just look at the Leafs:

The Leafs will continue on with Death March when they play the Pittsburgh Penguins again Thursday night. To make the playoffs, the Leafs’ performance will need to improve, as they could be on the outside looking in by as early as next Monday (edit: As Mirtle points out, it could be as early as Saturday night).

Apparently it’s cool to name your team’s month of March after something, “Death March,” “March of the Penguins,” okay that’s all I got but you get it.

No idea if Engo or Despres will be in the lineup tonight for the Pens, we’ve been rough on Engo but he had a rock solid game on Tuesday and really made the play that set up the first goal for Kun. We expect to see Fleury in net again tonight because it should seem like a given that Vokoun will get the nod against the Rangers on Saturday. No changes are expected at the forward positions (have you noticed that the Pens don’t really have ANY extra forwards at this exact date? You think they may be looking to make a move and are trying to save every penny they can?).

Pens are rolling, but this is exactly the time not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the Leafs need to get back on track, they have a lot of big, physical thumpers, and the Pens (unfortunately or otherwise) are due for a letdown after coming from behind in 4 of their current 6 game winning streak.

In other league news, Dan Rosen wrote an incredible apology for the Flyers today, and it made it to the front page of NHL.com.

Corey Perry was suspended for 4 games for a “meh” hit on some slub from the Wild. In all honesty, you have to wonder if that couldn’t affect his market value at the trade deadline or if he would hit the open market in free agency? Whether I think the hit was good, I hope that will serve as incentive for the Pens to keep their distance, he’ll be too expensive and the Penguins have enough wingers with occasional short tempers (ahem, James Neal) already. Hard to believe but the trade deadline is less than a month away now, that’s sweet.

Cause a panic. Go Pens.

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