PENGUINS (20-7-4) at MAPLE LEAFS(11-11-7)
7:00 pm (HNIC)
The whole idea behind a NHL campaign is to endure the grind, game in and game out, to become a champion. The talent, work and dedication to claim the Stanley Cup is immeasurable.
Last June, Sidney Crosby raised the Cup for a second time. The Pittsburgh Penguins have demonstrated a blueprint to success.
Tonight, the Leafs players will have an opportunity to set their own benchmark, playing a defending champion and creating their own path to hockey fulfillment.
Recent talk in hockey circles has been the 50 goals in 50 games milestone. Crosby has a chance of becoming only the 6th player in NHL history to officially accomplish the rare feat and the first player since Brett Hull back in 1992. Crosby has 21 goals in 25 games. It appears to be an outside chance at this point but a couple of multi-goal games will put him back on pace.
Pittsburgh won the only meeting so far this season between the two teams with a convincing 4-1 win.
The only blip on the Penguins radar at the moment is Kris Letang has been placed on the Injured Reserve dating to Dec 14. According to Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan,
“It won’t be easy,” Sullivan explained. “It will be by committee. We think we have capable people and we’ll sort it out. But certainly, he’s a tough guy to replace.”
All four forward lines are always a threat making one wonder how the Leafs will be able to contain the Penguins and limit their scoring chances. There is only so much ice time the Kadri line can chew up in a shut down role.
Pittsburgh is that skilled a team that Leaf players should be prepared to bring their lunch buckets and grind out 60 minutes of team play.
One team weakness for the Penguins is their penalty kill, no doubt something coach Babcock took note of in preparation of tonight’s matchup. Something the potent Leafs offense will need to exploit.
Leaf rookies continue to impress. After a brief stint playing fourth line minutes, Mitch Marner broke his goalless streak on Thursday. Auston Matthews continues to put up points as well after his 13 game drought.
While playing a good two-way game and creating chances, Nylander is likely feeling the pressure to regain his scoring touch. One goal in his last 11 games albeit he has four assists in his past five games. Just like Matthews, the break out is just around the corner.
As far as any playoff talk for this young team. It appears that a finish near the bottom is more likely. 12 points and seven teams stand in the way of a post-season birth. If you need convincing otherwise, look across the ice and see what the makeup of a champion team is. There is still much work to do.
So tonight, the long and winding road continues for the Leafs. Lessons can be taken away and a win would be nice at the same time..
What do you think Leafs Nation?
Discuss among yourselves.
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
Komarov– Kadri — Brown
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Hyman — Matthews — Nylander
Martin — Smith — Shoshnikov
Reilly — Zaitsev
Gardiner — Carrick
Hunwick — Polak
Sheary — Crosby — Hornqvist
Hagelin — Malkin — Kessel
Kunitz — Bonino — Rust
Wilson — Cullen — Kuhnhackl
Maata — Daley
Cole — Schultz
Mike Babcock — Morning Skate — 12/17/2016