The Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Air Canada Centre tonight for a showdown between two of the Eastern Conference’s top offensive teams. Toronto won the first matchup this season and a second win would help the team rebound from Thursday’s tough loss to the Bruins. Game starts at 7:00 pm EST.
Here are four factors that could stand in the Leafs’ path to victory:
1) After a somewhat slow start to the season (based entirely on his own standards), Sidney Crosby has exploded for 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) in 24 games. He is gradually putting some distance between himself and the league’s next highest scorer, namely Steven Stamkos, who has 35 points (18 goals, 17 assists) in 24 games. Crosby’s solid play has helped propel teammate Chris Kunitz (!) to become the league’s third highest scorer with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 24 games. Thus, if the Leafs want to win, they’ll need to keep Crosby and Kunitz off the scorecard or limit the damage these two players create. Can they do it?
Crosby netted/was limited to one goal while Kunitz was kept off the scorecard. Unfortunately, the Leafs couldn’t shutdown the rest of the Penguins.
2) Speaking of Crosby, this will be his first visit to the Air Canada Centre in the shortened NHL season. Toronto and the rest of Canada have a love-hate relationship with Sid the Kid: he undoubtedly the country’s (and world’s) best player, scoring the famous “Golden Goal” for Team Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics, but he’s also a magnet of criticism for the same reason. Other teams have to beat Crosby, not only the team he represents, and when he’s not wearing the Red & White, this means he’s public enemy #1. How do the good ol’ folks at the ACC treat Mr. Crosby?
As expected, there was a mixed reaction to Crosby. He’s just too good to hate for very long.
3) Toronto will likely return to James Reimer tonight, who held the goaltending duties when the Leafs beat the Penguins earlier this season. Reimer is riding a three game winning streak since his return from injury, which might work in Toronto’s favour. Can he extend the streak to four games?
Reimer looked shaky in the early frames, but buckled down in the third period to help force overtime. He didn’t accomplish much, however, when it came to the shootout.
4) Nazem Kadri, Toronto’s top scorer with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 25 games, is riding his own streak. He’s scored at least one goal in his last four games. Pittsburgh’s one weakness concerns inconsistent play from their goaltenders. Can Kadri and the Leafs exploit this weakness?
The Kadri Train finally came to a standstill. Let’s hope it’s just a temporary stop along the way to the Hart Memorial Trophy.
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