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Game Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Toronto Maple Leafs

O Canada!

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (2-1-2) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (6-1-0)

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

Opponent Track: Toronto enters tonight winners of five-straight (the last two games were a 4-2 win Saturday against Washington and a 4-1 win Monday at home against Los Angeles). This of course has not led to any increased hopes, excitement, or expectations in Ontario. After tonight, the Leafs have another home game on Saturday when the St. Louis Blues come to town.

Pens Refresh: Pittsburgh lost 3-2 in OT to Vancouver on Tuesday. The team has a weird schedule. After tonight, they’re idle until Tuesday night with no weekend game on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Odd times. The team will stay over in Toronto tonight, and practice in Toronto on Friday (green light???) before flying to Edmonton on Saturday. Their west coast swing against the Oilers, Flames, and Canucks begins next week.

SBN Team Counterpart: Pension Plan Puppets (PPP)

Scheduling Quirk: This is the only time the Pens won’t play on a Friday or Saturday all season (aside from the bye week during January 20-27). Pittsburgh also plays every Saturday of the season up to January 5, besides this weekend.

Opponent Focus

Red Hot in Blue

A quick glance at the NHL stats page shows an astounding four members of the Leafs in the league’s top-six in scoring:

That’s pretty much all you need to know, right? Auston Matthews has lit up the league so far, recording multi-point outings in all seven games so far this season. He scored goals in the first six games of the season, before failing to hit the back of the net last game against LA. Clearly he’s not going to sustain a 117-goal and 187-point season pace forever, but there’s no doubt he’s having a season to remember already.

Only four defensemen in the entire league have even half the points of Morgan Rielly so far, who also boasts more assists than any other blueliner has points so far. Amazingly through, in just the seven games Rielly has, he’s eclipsed almost half his point output from the 2016-17 season, — so yeah, things couldn’t be going any better for him either.

John Tavares joined his childhood favorite team and has been incredibly dynamic as well, notching six goals and five assists so far. Almost all of that production (five goals, four assists) came in a three-game stretch from October 7-11. Tavares’s scoring has been more in bunches compared to the consistency of Matthews so far.

Wide Open

Because of all that muscle, as you might imagine Toronto is currently No. 1 in the NHL in goals per game (4.71). Their power play is clicking at an astronomical and almost unbelievable 47.4% rate — though it is early in the season, and a whopping seven teams currently have at least 30-percent power plays at this point in time.

But pucks have gone the other way as well. Despite only allowing 30.7 shots/game (12th best in the league), Toronto is allowing 3.29 goals against per game (20th). Some of that can probably be attributed to score effects and playing loose after building huge leads, but it still stands to reason that so far Toronto has been more than willing to play a fast game and risk exchanging chances with the opposition and have had the power to outgun the opposition almost every time.

Goalie Uncertainty

Starter Frederik Andersen was out on Monday night with what’s said to be a minor knee injury. He was limited in practice on Tuesday, and the Leafs were off on Wednesday, so we don’t really know Andersen’s status or if he’s quite 100-percent. From PPP:

On Tuesday at Leafs practice, there were three goalies. Garret Sparks and Eamon McAdam (who was the backup in Monday’s game) stayed out for the full practice, but Frederik Andersen only worked out for a limited time.

Reports after they all left the ice tried to clarify his status. Andersen says he has a minor knee injury, and they had never intended for him to stay out for the whole practice. Mike Babcock had said on Monday night after the game that Andersen would definitely start on Thursday against the Penguins.

Mike Babcock sounded confident that Andersen gets the nod tonight, so we shall see how that plays out.

Expected Lines

Patrick Marleau - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen

Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner

Par Lindholm - Nazem Kadri - Connor Brown

Josh Leivo - Frederick Gauthier - Andreas Johnsson

Morgan Reilly / Ron Hainsey

Jake Gardiner / Nikita Zaitsev

Travis Dermott / Igor Ozhiganov

  • Kapanen has been a revelation of late, replacing Tyler Ennis on the top line in what was set to be the William Nylander spot in the lineup prior to the RFA contract standoff that’s stretched into the season. Kapanen has four goals and four assists on the season — all coming within the last five games. Like the rest of the bunch, he’s riding a hot streak.
  • Former Penguins and 37-year-old Ron Hainsey is still in a top pairing role, and has played pretty decently with two goals and two assists. He’s been on ice for 12 goals for and five goals against at 5v5 in seven games. Surely this is sustainable!
  • Perhaps lost in the shuffle would be Kadri, who has no goals and just one assist this season. It’s not a big deal with the way the rest of the team is playing.

And now, the Penguins

First game of a long road trip, in a tough building, playing a bunch of the league’s top players...let’s see how this one goes.

Maybe the matchup of Matthews/Tavares wakes the sleeping giants of Crosby/Malkin a little? The Penguins’ stars have but one goal on the season (Malkin, on opening night), but it seems just a matter of time before that changes and possibly in a big way. It would be very nice if they took the challenge to heart and prove what Lars Eller of the Capitals already knows: that Pittsburgh has the best center depth and power in the league

Expected Pens Lines

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust

Carl Hagelin - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel

Dominik Simon - Derick Brassard - - Patric Hornqvist

Riley Sheahan- Matt Cullen - Daniel Sprong

Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang

Jamie Oleksiak / Jack Johnson

Juuso Riikola / Olli Maatta

With all the talent and fire power, there’s no way this is a 2-1 type of game, right? But then again, this season, everything has gone about as opposite as expected, so who knows what may happen.

(Okay...yeah, I’d probably still count on a 6-5 type barn-burner).