Penguins face Leafs with chance to claim NHL lead
Sunday, 12.27.2009 / 7:00 PM
MAPLE LEAFS (13-17-9) at PENGUINS (26-11-1)
Toronto 4-4-2; Pittsburgh 7-2-1
Second of four meetings this season. Sidney Crosby scored a pair of power-play goals and Pittsburgh won 5-2 at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 10, part of an 0-7-1 start to the season for Toronto.
The Maple Leafs look like a much more competent hockey team than the last time the Penguins saw them. Pittsburgh figures to have its work cut out as it attempts to claim the Presidents' Trophy lead from Washington and sole possession of the Atlantic Division lead from New Jersey. Both of those teams have Sunday off.
Despite finishing with a 49-23 advantage in shots and rallying from an early two-goal deficit, Toronto lost 3-2 in overtime to Montreal at the ACC on Saturday. It was the Maple Leafs' third loss in four games against their Original Six rivals this season, with all of them coming either in OT or the shootout. Ian White scored late in the second period and Jason Blake early in the third, but Jaroslav Halak stymied them otherwise and Andrei Kostitsyn beat Jonas Gustavsson
just 34 seconds into extra time.
"Halak has been playing well, we had a lot of shots on him and had good traffic in front of him," Blake said. "He's a good goaltender."
Twenty-six wins in 38 games is a pretty good start to a title defense, and the only reason Pittsburgh doesn't have first in the Atlantic all to itself is its three losses to New Jersey this season, all on home ice. But the Penguins rebounded from being shut out last Monday in Martin Brodeur's milestone game to record an 8-2 drubbing of Ottawa on Wednesday. Evgeni Malkin recorded a hat trick and Bill Guerin scored a pair of power-play goals. Crosby registered three assists.
"Sid made good passes to me twice and the power play played good tonight," Malkin said. "We played very well the whole game."
White has goals in two of the Leafs' last three games and seven this season, three off his career high. … Guerin added a pair of assists in the Penguins' win over the Senators to record a four-point night, as did Chris Kunitz with a goal and three assists. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar had a goal and two assists to join Malkin and Crosby with three-point performances.
Recent call-up Viktor Stalberg missed Saturday's game for Toronto with a shoulder injury. Forward John Mitchell
(knee) and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson
(hyperextended elbow) are on injured reserve. … Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Eaton is expected to miss Sunday's game with a lower-body injury.
Giving up the first goal has been a season-long problem for the Maple Leafs, who have now allowed their opponent to score first in 28 of 39 games. They are 5-16-7 in those games. The Penguins have won 15 of 17 when scoring first.
"I think luckily with this break we have two days coming back here," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Saturday. "We luckily have a day to practice before having a game day. A lot of times you just get the game-day skate and then you have the game at night, which is a very difficult thing to do. Having this practice after our break I feel comfortable you can get the lead out, get the food out and get the travel out today. Then tomorrow can be a normal day. That is a big benefit to us."