Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (5-6-2, 12 points, 7th place Metropolitan Division) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (7-4-3, 17 points, 4th place Atlantic Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, TSN4 and TVAS up in Canada (dang, how many TSN’s y’all got up there), Sling TV
Opponent Track: The seat for coach Sheldon Keefe was seemingly getting hot before the Leafs won all of their first three games in November to pull the nose up on a frustrating start to the season. Toronto blew a third period lead and ended up losing in OT at home to Vegas on Monday in their last game out on Tuesday and have had a couple days off to prepare for tonight.
Pens Path Ahead: It’s another back-to-back, with the Pens in Montreal tomorrow night. Then they get the rare game actually in Pittsburgh next Tuesday when they’ll see these same Maple Leafs. After that, the Pens head back out on the road yet again to Minnesota, Winnipeg and Chicago next week for yet another road trip.
Season Series: The NHL schedule can often be quirky, and the PIT/TOR season series is one of the quirkiest for Pittsburgh this year. The teams play all three of their matchups over the course of just the next 15 days. There’s tonight’s game, and as mentioned above the Leafs come to Pittsburgh in a few days time. Then Toronto will come back to the ‘Burgh the following week on Saturday November 26th (two days after Thanksgiving) and just like that we will knock out the whole season of the Pens and Leafs.
Getting to know the Maple Leafs
SB Nation counterpart: Pension Plan Puppets
Alex Kerfoot - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Nick Robertson - John Tavares - William Nylander
Zach Aston-Reese - David Kampf - Denis Malgin
Michael Bunting - Pierre Engvall - Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly / Timothy Liljegren
TJ Brodie / Justin Holl
Mark Giordano / Rasmus Sandin
Goalies: Erik Kallgren (Keith Petruzzelli)
Scratches: Calle Jarnkrok (ill), Jordie Benn, Kyle Clifford
IR: Kyle Clifford, Ilya Samsonov, Jake Muzzin, Matt Murray
—Never a good sign when the two NHL goalies are on the IR so early into the season. Murray’s return looks imminent, perhaps as soon as this weekend, though it doesn’t appear he will be playing tonight. The 23-year old Petruzzelli doesn’t look like much of a viable NHL option at this time (he played more in the ECHL than AHL last year), so it’s been up to Kallgren to play the minutes until Murray can return. Kallgren was great earlier in the week against Carolina (stopping 29/30 in the Toronto win) but less than so against Vegas in the last game out (16/20 in the OTL).
—Sophomore slump for Michael Bunting? After putting up 63 points in 79 games last season, he only has two goals and six points in 14 to start this season and has found himself (probably temporarily) shuffled down the lines in practice as he tries to regain his form.
—Mitch Marner is building just a fascinating reputation? legacy? Not sure the right word, but his career is one of the most interesting stories going these days. He’s only 25, has well over a point-per-game in his career, but as a mostly playmaking winger just seems to be a magnet for criticism and the perfect illustration of how the skilled Leafs team somehow always adds up to less than the sum of their parts. As only a restricted free agent, Marner’s agent also somehow pulled out a $10.9 million cap hit, the seventh biggest currently in the league and only Artemi Panarin has a larger one as a winger. I don’t even suspect a negative reputation has been earned, but it’s just something about the situation and play style that drives people crazy at times.
—Poor Matt Murray got injured in the very first game of the season. Talking about unique career paths and conflicting outlooks on legacy, Murray’s journey in the span of only about six years has been almost unbelievably all over the place with highs and lows and a trip to purgatory (Ottawa) in between.
—Nice to see Zach Aston-Reese off to a typically and predictably Astonian-Reese start of two points in 14 games and some good play away from the puck.
Head to head
—It’s early in the year, but a completely contrasting image is forming between these two teams. The Pens are strong with their process on offense, weaker on defense. The Leafs are not performing well offensively, but have been very strong with limiting chances against. Neither team has a good penalty kill, and both are totally underperfoming at finishing chances, which is pretty surprising considering the talent levels on both groups.
And now for the Pens...
Potential Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen
Filip Hallander - Ryan Poehling - Josh Archibald
Marcus Pettersson / Kris Letang
P.O. Joseph? / Jeff Petry
Brian Dumoulin / Jan Rutta?
Goalies: Casey DeSmith (Tristan Jarry)
Scratches: Chad Ruhwedel, Sam Poulin, Kasperi Kapanen
IR: Teddy Blueger
—A starting goalie hasn’t been announced, and Mike Sullivan surprised when using Casey DeSmith last game. After stopping 24/25 and being very good especially early on against the Capitals when the Pens needed the goalie, there’s good reason to go back to DeSmith again tonight.