The Pittsburgh Penguins (6-6-4) are square after 16 games. They’re already seven points behind third-place New York Rangers in the Metro Division but only two points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for a wild-card position. The Penguins will have their hands full on Saturday night in front of a national Hockey Night in Canada audience when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs (11-5-1).
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan will be behind the bench after he was unable to coach on Thursday due to the lengthier Canadian COVID protocols.
Not only is Toronto stacked with talent, including perennial Rocket Richard Trophy contender Auston Mathews, but elite players such as Mitch Marner and John Tavares, too. Toronto has won nine of their last 10 games and is on a roll since the Penguins crushed them 7-1 in Pittsburgh on Oct. 23.
The Penguins snapped their three-game losing streak by steamrolling the Montreal Canadiens, 6-0 on Thursday. Sidney Crosby busted loose with his first goal of the season, but the Penguins third line with Teddy Blueger, Zach Aston-Reese, and Brock McGinn owned the stat sheet.
Blueger had two goals, McGinn lit the lamp, and Aston-Reese had two assists. Tristan Jarry only faced 24 shots, but a goodly number of them were scoring chances, too.
It was an important win for the Penguins against the specter of slipping multiple games back in the wild-card race.
However, Toronto is no creampuff.
What to Watch:
The Penguins system–hard forecheck and puck pressure vs. Toronto’s talent. It’s a relatively new dynamic in which the Pittsburgh Penguins are not the most talented team on the ice, but that’s where we are. The Penguins don’t win without being high-energy, disruptive, and aggressive.
The days of winning on talent are over.
Sidney Crosby is progressing with each game. These are his first hockey games since last April. Injury and COVID have thus far derailed his season. Even Crosby, who replied to PHN during training camp that he’s
been through this before, was taken aback by the COVID delay.
“I’m still learning. This is a new scenario for me to go through. I’ve come back from injury, but never that long; missing camp and then going through stuff with the virus. So it’s hard to be patient, but you kind of have to be,” Crosby said on Thursday night.
*Kasperi Kapanen has four goals–three of which came in one game. He, too, could help the cause by getting inside the dots more consistently and finding that elite gear that head coach Mike Sullivan challenged him to find at the beginning of training camp.
*Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin will get a lot of Matthews, but can Pettersson-Marino handle Tavares and Nylander?
*The question of the game: can the Penguins disrupt the Maple Leaf’s offensive wizardry and put enough rubber past red-hot Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell?
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Rickard Rakell|
|Danton Heinen||Ryan Poehling||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Brock McGinn||Sam Poulin||Drew O'Connor|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||Jeff Petry|
|P.O Joseph||Jan Rutta|
Expected Toronto Maple Leafs Lines, Per Puckpedia.com
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||24.1% (7-29, 11th)||72% (7-25, 28th)|
|Vancouver Canucks||22.2% (6-27, 17th)||60% (10-25, 32nd)|
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
*Jason Zucker has six goals in 11 career games against the Maple Leafs
*Kris Letang has 10 points (1G-9A) in his last nine games against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
*The Penguins’ 35.8 shots per game is the highest average in the NHL.
*Jake Guentzel has goals in three-straight games and has a four-game point streak (3-2-5).
*Brian Dumoulin will play in his 400th game.
*Thursday, Teddy Blueger had his first three-point (2G-1A) game and second two-goal game of his career. He also was a career-high plus-4.
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T SportsNet, CBC, NHL Network; Radio: 105.9 The X