The Leafs have been in a tailspin since these last two teams met on October 18th. At that point they were 6-1-0, had four of the league’s top six scorers and were firing on all cylinders.
That night Matt Murray shut them out and since then it’s been downhill. Toronto enters tonight with a 8-5-0 record, and worse yet are dealing with the loss of star center Auston Matthews who hurt his shoulder and is still expected to be out for at least the next three weeks.
Tonight will be only the third game Matthews has missed, so in many ways Toronto is still adjusting to life without their #1 center and star of the team. As Pens fans know too well, it’s never fun or easy to replace a star, elite center but it sure is better when you have another one on the team. Tavares is a tried-and-true top line star center and Nazem Kadri is capable to push into a second line role.
Per snazzily named blog Editor in Leaf, their offense has had a lot of issues lately:
After a torrid start, the Leafs last six games have featured goal counts of 0,1,4,3,1,1. That is just ten goals over six games, when this team should be looking at 20-24. That’s under two per night, and seven of the ten goals came in just two of the games.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have scored one or less in four of their last six games.
While the basic main stream media is turning some heat up on John Tavares (hilariously enough), Toronto’s real problem this year has been a lack of scoring outside of their star players. Again, from EIL:
Marleau, Hyman, Gauthier, Brown, Lindholm, Ennis, Johnsson, and Leivo have a combined 2 even strength goals. I’m going to capitalize the following so it really hits home:
EIGHT OF THE LEAFS 13 FORWARDS HAVE COMBINED FOR 2 5V5 GOALS IN 93 GAMES
The play of Patrick Marleau has seemed to draw particular ire in some quarters, as it looks like the 39-year old may have “hit the wall” in terms of fading production. Marleau has but 2 goals in 13 games to start the season, after being very consistent scoring 27, 27 and 25 goals the last three seasons. It’s early still but he’s on pace for half of that total, which would obviously be a big problem since he typically plays a top-six role and also is signed for $6.25 million this season AND next.
Marleau does have six total points on the season, which puts him on a respectable enough 37 point pace, but most of his points came very early in the season when Matthews and Tavares were red hot- Marleau only has two goals (and no assists) in his last 10 games. He did, however, score Toronto’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Dallas on Thursday night in the Leafs’ previous game.
Toronto lines (from practice yesterday)
Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Kasperi Kapanen
Andreas Johnsson - Par Lindholm - Connor Brown
Tyler Ennis - Frederick Gauthier - Josh Leivo
Morgan Rielly / Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner / Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott / Igor Ozhiganov
-The Leafs also called up Trevor Moore yesterday from the AHL. Moore, an undrafted 23-year old forward, would be making his NHL debut if he dresses tonight. He has 12 points (8 goals + 4 assists) in 10 games for the AHL Toronto Marlies team.
-Fresh blood like Moore might be needed to mix things up and give a jolt of energy, as the information above states most of Toronto’s bottom six has been prettt quiet this year. Their team will look a lot better when Matthews returns to health and if they’re able to sign restricted free agent William Nylander but a quick glance at the bottom part of that lineup is, yikes, not very good
-Frederick Andersen (6-5-0, .917 save%, 2.49 GAA) has started 11 of the 13 games so far this season. So probably expect to see the TML starting goalie for this premiere matchup.
And for the Penguins, no indications that there will be any differences from last game, in part necessitated for only having 12 healthy forwards. Pittsburgh had a scheduled off day yesterday so there has been no news or information since Thursday night’s game in Brooklyn. Derick Brassard wasn’t that close earlier in the week, so unless something has drastically changed he’s likely out for another game and the team will have to shuffle in his absence.
Lines (before Mike Sullivan starts shuffling them)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Dominik Simon
Carl Hagelin - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Riley Sheahan - Matt Cullen - Patric Hornqvist
Bryan Rust - Derek Grant - Daniel Sprong
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / Jamie Oleksiak
Jack Johnson / Chad Ruhwedel
—Yesterday Matt Cullen celebrated birthday #42. He is the oldest player in the NHL this season, if you didn’t know, and now officially twice as old as his teammate (and sometimes linemate) in Sprong.
—Playing at home against a playoff caliber team you would expect Matt Murray to be in the net, right? Murray lost both games against the Islanders this week, his performance just seemed OK in front of a bad defense at times. Casey DeSmith has played well this season though, wouldn’t be too shocking to see the coaches turn to him either this game or next one (Monday vs. NJD).