Game Preview #51 - Leafs vs Penguins
The Toronto Maple Leafs (25-19-6) will look to rebound tonight from a tough loss last night as they once again face the Pittsburgh Penguins (29-17-4) at the Air Canada Centre. The Leafs played perhaps their best game of the season the first 50 minutes of last night's contest. Completely owning the Penguins in Pittsburgh, the Leafs built a 4-1 lead, and in reality should have been up at least 7-1 had they had some luck. The final ten minutes though the Leafs sat back and watched the Penguins climb back and steal the game away. The victory was the Pens eight straight and most of the credit should go to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury who kept Pittsburgh within reach until they decided to flip the switch and begin competing.
While the talk around Toronto is solely focused in on the collapse, the Leafs themselves can take many positives away from last night's game. What is crucial though is how they respond tonight as they seek redemption. Look for Pittsburgh to be motivated as well, considering the coaching staff certainly wasn't happy with their performance despite the result.
There will be some lineup changes for the Leafs as James Reimer will replace Jonas Gustavsson in the net. Reimer will have the chance tonight to reclaim the net from Gustavsson who stole the number 1 job away from him. Being a big supporter of Reimer, I feel that he will be very good for the Leafs tonight. Both Colby Armstrong and John Michael Liles will also return to the lineup following lengthy layoffs due to concussions. Armstrong hasn't played since December 17th against the Vancouver Canucks while Liles has been out December 22nd against the Buffalo Sabres. Forward Nazem Kadri and defenseman Keith Aulie have been sent to the Toronto Marlies to make room for the returning veterans. Armstrong will slide right into Kadri's spot in the lineup alongside Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi, while there has been no word as to which defenseman comes out for Liles.
What is important tonight is that the Leafs put last night's game behind them and focus on getting traffic and chaos in front of Fleury. Fleury has won his last eight games and was a thorn in the Leafs side all night. Discipline will also be a factor as the Leafs were only penalized once last night, the key to success begins with keeping the dangerous Pens power play off the ice.
Lupul - Bozak - Kessel
Kulemin - Grabovski - MacArthur
Lombardi - Connolly - Armstrong
Brown - Steckel - Crabb
Schenn - Phaneuf
Gunnarsson - Komisarek
Liles - Franson
Kunitz – Malkin – Neal
Dupuis – Jeffrey – Kennedy
Sullivan – Park – Cooke
Macintyre – Vitale – Adams
Letang – Orpick
Michalek – Martin
Niskannen – Engelland
Players to Watch
Leafs: James Reimer - The Leafs' savior last season has the opportunity tonight that many Leaf fans have been waiting for. The time is now for Reimer to steal the net back and put the Leafs on his back in the final stretch of the season. Reimer is always known to be a battler and a fiercely competitive goalie. His playoffs begin tonight, and the Leafs need a strong last line of defense following a crushing loss last night.
Penguins: Evgeny Malkin - The NHL's leading scorer was completely neutralized by the Mikhail Grabovski line last night, until he scored the tying goal with less than 7 left in the game. The enigmatic superstar has the capabilities to completely take over any night he feels like it. The Leafs hope they can keep the giant dormant one more night.
Game Time: 7:30 at the Air Canada Centre. TV - TSN. Radio - AM640.