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Game Day #5: No Letang, No-Star Penguins Lines, Notes vs. Maple Leafs

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Pittsburgh Penguins (2-0-2) are both beleaguered and resilient. The undaunted Penguins will be sans their top three centers, top right-winger, and now their top defenseman when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs (2-2-1) for the first time in more than 18 months.

Before head coach Mike Sullivan’s morning press conference he announced that Letang was in protocol. At the end of the video, you’ll see/hear the stunned silence in the media. More bad luck?

COVID isolated the Canadian teams last season, so the Penguins haven’t faced Toronto since the 2019-20 season. The Penguins won the East Division, and Toronto won the North division last season, but their current rosters are diametrically opposed.

Toronto has its full complement of stars, including Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The Penguins…have Evan Rodrigues as their first-line center. Jeff Carter is in COVID protocol, Sidney Crosby is still rehabbing, and the Penguins lines will be a mismatch of players slotted above their paygrade.

Tristan Jarry was initially placed in protocol on Thursday, but on Friday head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed it was a false positive and Jarry is available on Saturday. The Penguins held an optional morning skate, but Sullivan said Jarry will start.

Jack Campbell is the man for Toronto after 1A goalie Petr Mrazek suffered an injury and Michael Hutchinson started on Friday night. Toronto lost at home to San Jose 5-3. 

The Penguins lost in OT to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, 2-1. The game was unique as neither team had a power play and the Penguins couldn’t crack the Dallas defense.

What to Watch:

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes or Monk to figure out what to watch on Saturday night. Can the Penguins depth players create enough offense, while holding the defensive zone, to beat Toronto?

At what point is enough just enough?

Assuming the Penguins give a Deadpool maximum effort, Evan Rodrigues will see time against Auston Matthews. It’s almost unavoidable, though Sullivan may be wise to get Teddy Blueger and the defensive energy line against the top Maple Leafs line.

However, out of the frying pan, and into the fryer. If Rodrigues doesn’t see Matthews, he’ll get John Tavares.

The Penguins third line is a bit of hope and a prayer with Drew O’Connor in the middle. Nothing about O’Connor’s body language says he’s comfy in the middle. He did his best in camp and wasn’t awful, but this is an NHL regular-season game. Heaven help the kid. Jason Zucker will be on his left, so a bit more responsibility will fall on the well-paid LW, too.

The Penguins best game plan will be to hold pucks low, work the low-to-high game with their high-scoring defensemen, and wear on Toronto as the physically grittier team.

But even that strategy is significantly hampered without Letang.

The Penguins best hope will be to significantly outwork the Maple Leafs and get plenty of saves of Tristan Jarry. This season, Jarry is 2-0-1 with a .935 save percentage.

On paper, there’s no way the Pittsburgh Penguins should be competitive on Saturday night. But paper doesn’t matter.

Pittsburgh Penguins Lines

LWCRW
Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyEvan Rodrigues
Jason Zucker Jeff CarterDanton Heinen
Brock McGrinnTeddy BluegerKasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-ReeseDrew O'ConnorDominik Simon
LDRD
Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJohn Marino
Mike Matheson Chad Ruhwedel
Goalie
Tristan Jarry
Casey DeSmith

Toronto Maple Leafs Lines, Per Puckpedia.com:

Ritchie-Mathews-Marner

Bunting-Tavares-Nylander

Kerfoot-Kampf-Kase

Engvall-Spezza-Simmons

Defense:

Reilly-Brodie

Muzzin-Holl

Sandin-Dermott

Jack Campbell

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Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes

Jason Zucker has five goals in 10 career games against the Maple Leafs.

Kris Letang has 10 points (1-9-10) in his last nine games against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Penguins have successfully killed off nine of 10 opposing power plays (90%). The team’s 90% PK rate is tied for sixth-best in the NHL.

–Tristan Jarry has gotten off to a hot start in this early portion of the season. He enters tonight’s game with a 2-0-1 record, 1.62 goals-against-average and a .935 save percentage.

Jarry has just one regulation loss in his last 20 appearances (15-1-2).

–Kasperi Kapanen has never played against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Pittsburgh Penguins 2014 first-round pick made his NHL debut with Toronto (Kapanen was part of the Penguins trade package to Toronto for Phil Kessel on July 1, 2015).

How to Watch: 

TV: AT&T SportsNet, CBC, NHL Network; Radio: 105.9 The X

Subscribe to PHN+

Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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