The Leafs take on Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at 7:00 pm EST.
Here are four factors that could stand in their path to victory:
1) The greatest challenge facing the young Leafs will be Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Both superstars have yet to find the back of the net and it’s hard to imagine them going much longer without putting one past the goal line. Crosby in particular is due for some points. In the team’s first two games of the new season, he’s only managed one assist, putting him well behind his historic points-per-game rate of 1.4. Against the odds, can the Leafs keep Crosby and Malkin at bay? Both players, I should add, have absolutely dominated the Leafs throughout their short careers.
Crosby earned a goal and an assist on the night while Malkin collected a goal of his own. That offence wasn’t enough, however, as the Leafs won 5-2 in impressive fashion.
2) James Reimer will likely make his first start of the season. He hasn’t played in a real NHL game since last spring and fellow backstop Ben Scrivens has done a decent job keeping the rubber out of the net over the Leafs’ first two games of the season. The decision to start Reimer against a strong team suggests that the Leafs might have higher expectations for him than Scrivens. After all, Reimer is supposedly the team’s goalie of the future. Having said this, it also likely reflects the fact that the Leafs play again tomorrow night against the (much weaker) New York Islanders so Reimer would have been given one of the two starts anyway. Whatever the reason, how does he fare in his season debut?
Welcome back, James, welcome back. Reimer gave-up a somewhat soft goal to Malkin on the power play, but that was really it. Crosby’s goal came on a poor defensive play from Mikhail Grabovski, setting up a breakaway for the league’s best player. You cannot blame Reimer for that. Don’t be surprised to see Reimer back in the net tonight.
3) The Leafs have scored three power play goals over their first two games of the season, but they’ve squandered the bulk of their chances. Head coach Randy Carlyle said the team will refocus on the power play over the next few days. Now there’s word Jake Gardiner, the Leafs’ best puck-moving defenceman, will be back in the lineup for tonight. Does a renewed focus on the power play and the return of Gardiner help generate some additional offence?
The Leafs finally scored on the 5-3, but their four other goals came at even strength. I’m sure they’d rather have the even strength goals than the lone power play goal.
4) The top-three lines for tonight’s game will look different. Joffrey Lupul is dropping down to the third line, Nazem Kadri is moving up to the second line, and Clarke MacArthur will find himself playing alongside Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel on the first line. Do these changes help invigorate a listless offence?
In the end, the lines looked different than originally thought. Lupul stayed on the first line while MacArthur and James van Riemsdyk swapped places. Did it work? JVR had two goals and one assist on the night while the second line combined for eight points in total (three goals, five assists). On the third line, MacArthur collected a goal and an assist. The only bad news? Lupul left the game early with a fractured forearm. He’ll likely be out for 6-8 weeks.
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