The Maple Leafs will take on the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins in the front half of another back-to-back duel over Hockey Hall of Fame weekend (7:00 p.m. EST, TSN4).
Considering the circumstances — they started their third-row goaltender twice and played against him in the third period on Saturday — it was a much-needed and reassuring stretch of hockey for the Leafs, five of six points against three of the top four teams in the Appreciation gather the leaves and their fan base. While it’s basically a predictable result at this point, the team has been very well able to improve their game against the elite competition. Tonight they will look to build on their recent performances against a Penguins team who have had an absolutely brutal couple of weeks but always have the potential to be a sleeping giant with a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the line-up.
After starting the year 4-0-1, the Penguins lost seven straight games before finally getting back into the winning column on Wednesday. The only point they picked up in that seven-game losing streak was an overtime loss to the Bruins that saw the Penguins squander a 5-2 lead. It’s been a really terrible hockey week in Pittsburgh.
However, after a 4-1 win in Washington, the Penguins are hoping to build some momentum toward a turnaround. If they could get their combined specialty teams out of the NHL’s bottom five, there are some promising signs at 5v5 beneath the surface, including a seventh-place finish in the NHL in terms of expected goal scoring this season.
The Leafs’ lineup will remain exactly the same since Tuesday’s matchup, and there is one positive development in the fold. While Erik Källgren will play on Friday, Matt Murray has been training this week as his return draws nearer, with tomorrow’s game against Vancouver a real opportunity for his second start of the season at the Leafs’ net.
Hall of Fame weekend is extra special to continue the ceremony with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner all healthy and playing in the same game; Chances are pretty good that five future HHOfers could be in that group. All are at or around a point a game this season, even with ups and downs from their teams.
There will be another important moment before this game: the Leafs will honor legendary defenseman Börje Salming as part of the Hall of Fame celebrations. Salming faces an uphill battle in his battle with ALS that has sadly left him speechless. Please read Michael Langlois’ tribute to Salming and consider making a donation to ALS causes today.
Game day quotes
Mike Sullivan on his team’s inconsistency at the start of the season:
There was a lot of volatility in the game with our team… One of the things we’re talking about is putting a game on the ice that gives us an opportunity to be successful, but also gives us an opportunity to be consistently successful. It’s shift in and shift out. That’s a conversation we’re having with our team in hopes of eliminating some of the volatility in our game.
Sheldon Keefe on what Borje Salming means to the Maple Leafs:
It takes on a whole new meaning when you become a Leafs coach. Like so many others, he’s the guy you think of when you think of the Leafs – especially when it comes to the European players who are so prominent in the league but now even on our team. We have a number of Swedish players who are specifically associated with him. He even made time to spend time with them.
He was here last season and we had a quick chat with him. I’m well aware that he’s a proud Maple Leaf. Like all of our alumni, I think having that connection helps your current team. You see the impact the team and the city have had on the players who have come before them.
I was young for much of his career. A lot was before I was born. But you still feel its impact – now even more so in my current role.
Rasmus Sandin on what Salming means to him and if he has ever given him any advice over the years:
He’s an icon in Sweden and here in Toronto. I had the opportunity to meet and talk to him a couple of times. He’s just an iconic guy to look up to.
Overall he’s just a great guy. I don’t know if he really gave me advice. He just said, “Keep an eye out for the Toronto media.”
When I was drafted, he actually invited me to lunch. Somehow we got in touch and he wanted to go to lunch. This is something I will remember forever.
He’s just an icon. It will be something I always look back on.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #34 Austin Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#89 Nick Robertson – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#58 Michael Bunting – #47 Pierre Engvall – #19 Calle Järnkrok
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kampf – #62 Denis Malgin
#78 TJ Brodie – #3 Justin Holl
#44 Morgan Rielly – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#55 Mark Giordano – #38 Rasmus Sandin
Starter: #50 Erik Källgren
#80 Keith Petruzzelli
Extras: Wayne Simmonds, Filip Kral, Jordie Benn
Hurt: Kyle Clifford, Jake Muzzin, Matt Murray, Ilya Samsonov
Pittsburgh Penguins projected lines
#58 Jake Guentzel – #87 Sidney Crosby – #17 Bryan Rust
#16 Jason Zucker – #71 Evgeni Malkin – #67 Rickard Rakell
#23 Brock McGinn – #77 Jeff Carter – #43 Danton Heinen
#36 Filip Hallander – #25 Ryan Poehling – #15 Josh Archibald
#28 Marcus Petersson – #58 Kris Letang
#73 Pierre-Oliver Joseph – #26 Jeff Petry
#8 Brian Dumoulin – #44 Jan Rutta
Starters: #1 Casey DeSmith
#35 Tristan Jarry
Hurt: Teddy Blueger
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