The surging Pittsburgh Penguins (5-3-0) host the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs (3-4-3) on Thursday night. After an unremarkable start, the Penguins have managed to put together 3 straight wins and are heading into the second game of a 3-game home stand. The Maple Leafs have only won 1 in their last 5-games, having lost 2 in overtime in that span.
The Penguins’ performance in the last two games can be credited to goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has given up just 1 goal in two games on 67 shots. His play of late has been a complete turnaround from his inconsistent play in the first five games of the season in which he had a 3.6 goals against average. “You saw it Saturday night, you saw it tonight, he was the best player on our team,” said Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney. “No one lost faith in him and he worked as hard as he could in practice. We’re all real pumped for him.” The question now is whether he can continue his solid play, and be consistent through the remainder of the season.
The Penguins offensive production in the last 2 games has fallen off substantially. After averaging 3.7 goals per game in their first 6 games (18G), the Pens have only averaged 1.5 in the last 2 games (3G). They have also been outshot by a margin of 67-44 in the last 2 games. The last 3 goals have come off the sticks of Jordan Staal, Ryan Whitney and Evgeni Malkin, with Sidney Crosby getting assists on 2. The Penguins will look to reverse this trend against the Leafs who have given up 42 goals in 10 games, more than any other team in the NHL. Toronto, having played 8 of 10 games on home ice, will be on the road for 6 of its next 7. The Leafs are winless on the road so far this season (0-1-1).
This will be the second match between the Penguins and Leafs this year, with Pittsburgh beating Toronto on the Leafs’ ice 6-4 on October 13th. Sidney Crosby scored 2 goals against the Leafs in the first matchup, including the game-winner, and has 14 points (5G, 9A) in 9 career contests against the Leafs. Toronto went 0-2-0 at Mellon Arena in 2006-07, getting outscored 12-3, and is 1-3-1 in the last five matchups with Pittsburgh overall.
The Penguins have the advantage in special teams with a power play efficiency of 21.7% and a penalty killing effectiveness of 84.2%. The Leafs are just 12.5% on the man advantage and are 78.8% on the penalty kill. The Leafs have produced 3.7 goals on average per game, while the Penguins have dropped to 3 goals per game after the last two low scoring outings. However, the Pens have given up 3 goals per game versus the Leafs 4.1.
NHLPens.com Prediction: The Penguins have a chance to firmly put their slow start behind them in front of their home crowd by notching a 4th consecutive win. The Penguins offense needs a resurgence and should take advantage of the struggling Leafs. Marc-Andre Fleury will have another good game, but will be stymied by Mats Sundin and another Leaf to give up 2 goals. I am predicting a Penguins regulation win by a score of 4-2. Most likely goal scorers for the Penguins include Sindey Crosby, Petr Sykora, Sergei Gonchar and Maxime Talbot. I predict a 3-point night for Crosby (1G, 2A).