PENGUINS (2-0-0) vs. MAPLE LEAFS (1-1-0)
WHEN: January 23, 2013 - 7:00 pm | WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
|Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul (Getty Images)
The Toronto Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs the last seven seasons, which feels like an eternity for the storied franchise’s passionate fans. The club enters the 2012-13 season ready to make a push for the postseason with a new general manager, Dave Nonis (who replaced Brian Burke), and coach Randy Carlyle handling a youthful squad as Toronto possesses the NHL’s second-youngest roster.
The news in Toronto this week was that winger Joffrey signed a five-year contract extension worth $26.25 million, just one day after being named an alternate captain. Lupul earned his deal after a strong 2011-12 campaign playing left wing on Toronto’s top line with center Tyler Bozak and right wing Phil Kessel, posting career highs and ranking second on the team in points (67) and assists (42) through 66 games while being named to his first NHL All-Star Game. Lupul also ranked second in goals (25) and power-play goals (8) behind Kessel, who also had a career year for the Maple Leafs. The speedy sniper scored 37 goals and 82 points, his fourth straight season reaching the 30-goal mark.
While Lupul, Bozak and Kessel were together last season to provide Toronto’s most potent offensive threat, this year's line combinations seem to be fluid. During Wednesday's morning skate Clarke MacArthur (20 goals, 43 points) skated with Bozak and Kessel. James van Riemsdyk – who spent the last three seasons with Philadelphia – moved up to left wing on the second line with center Mikhail Grabovski (who had 23 goals and 51 points last season) and right wing Nikolai Kulemin. That puts Lupul on the third line with Marlies call-ups Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov.
Kadri and Komarov are two intriguing players. Kadri, the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, has dealt with intense scrutiny since joining the Leafs organization. But this year, the 22-year-old made the team out of training camp and has made an early impact with two goals in two games. Komarov has been a physical presence on the wing with nine hits in his last two games.
Captain Dion Phaneuf anchors Toronto’s defense, which struggled last season with a goals-against average that ranked second-to-last in the league. They’ll have to tighten up in front of their goaltending, which also struggled during the 2011-12 campaign. While Jonas Gustavsson signed with Detroit during the offseason, James Reimer is back – but has yet to make his season debut. That’s because Ben Scrivens, who’s spent the last two seasons with the Marlies after four years at Cornell, has started Toronto’s first two games. Either goalie could get the start on Wednesday..
MAPLE LEAFS: NAZEM KADRI
Ever since Toronto drafted Kadri with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, Leafs fans have been waiting anxiously for the young prospect to make an impact at the NHL level. After all, he is an exciting player, with soft hands, offensive flair and creativity. After spending majority of the last two seasons developing in the American Hockey League, primarily working on his defensive game, Kadri had a stellar training camp and made the Leafs roster. He’s scored in each of his first two games and saw his ice time increase from 9:53 minutes in the season opener vs. Montreal to 15:10 minutes in Toronto’s home opener vs. Buffalo.
PENGUINS: KRIS LETANG
Letang played like a Norris Trophy contender on Sunday in New York against the Rangers. He’s such a gifted skater, and that really showed in the way he flew up and down the ice to make plays on both ends of the rink. He moved the puck well on the power play from the center point, contributing an assist on the man-advantage in addition to his empty-net goal. As Toronto’s strength is their forwards, the Penguins will need Letang to be strong defensively and then help start the rush the other way.
- Last season the Penguins won both of their home games against the Maple Leafs and they have won three straight at home over Toronto overall.
- The Penguins have won their first two games of the season for the second straight year. With a win tonight they will have won three straight games to open a season for the first time since beginning the 1994-95 lockout-shortened campaign by winning their first seven games en route to a 13-game unbeaten stretch (12-0-1) to open the year.
- The Penguins are looking to win their second-straight home opener. Last year they defeated the Florida Panthers, 4-2, on Oct. 11.
- The Penguins enter Wednesday’s game with a 23-12-9 all-time record in home openers.
- This marks the fifth time that the Penguins have played the Maple Leafs in their home opener. Pittsburgh is 1-2-1 in the previous four instances.
- Including both games this season, Penguins have now scored three or more goals in 13 consecutive regular-season games dating back to last season. The last time Pittsburgh scored fewer than three goals in a game was a 3-2 overtime loss in Philadelphia on March 18, 2012).
- The Penguins have averaged 3.54 goals per game against the Maple Leafs in 28 meetings dating back to the 2005-06 season. Pittsburgh has scored three or more regulation goals in nine straight home games against the Leafs, a stretch where the Penguins have posted a 6-3 record and averaged 3.89 goals per game.
- As usual, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have led the way. Crosby has at least one goal in four straight home meetings with the Leafs for a total of six goals. For his career, Crosby has points in 10 of 12 home games – amassing nine goals, 12 assists and 21 points in those 12 games.
- Overall, Crosby has points in six straight games against the Leafs, tallying a total of 10 points (9G-1A). Malkin is equally as dominant against the Leafs, notching at least one point in nine of his 10 career home games against Toronto – including multiple points in six of those contests. In fact, the most recent meeting between the teams on Mar. 7 of last season was the first time Malkin went scoreless in a home game against the Leafs.
- He has 21 points (6G-15A) in 10 home games all-time. Overall, Malkin has notched at least one point in 17 of his 20 meetings against Toronto, with 12 multiple-point games. Malkin’s 1.9 career point-per-game average against the Leafs is his highest against any NHL team.
D Jake Gardiner, head/neck
Author: Michelle Crechiolo