The time for moral victories is long over for this season, but one has to think that the Toronto Maple Leafs (30-29-7) feel pretty good about themselves despite the loss last night. The Leafs have an opportunity tonight to quickly put the memory of last night’s tough and hard fought loss to the Boston Bruins behind them as they face off tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins (39-21-5). The last time the Leafs were in this building they blew a late 4-1 third period lead and ended up losing in a shootout. Jonas Gustavsson was on the hook for that loss and considering he allowed 5 goals last night against the Bruins, one has to think that Randy Carlyle will pencil in James Reimer’s name as the starting goalie for the first time in his Maple Leafs tenure. Reimer played the next day against the Penguins and shut them out in a 1-0 victory. Curious to see which direction Carlyle goes with his starting goalies tonight.
The Leafs will be without both Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong as both players suffered injuries in last night’s game. The severity of the injuries are unknown, but there is speculation that both will be out of the lineup for the foreseeable future. Toronto called up trade deadline acquisition Carter Ashton from the Toronto Marlies on an emergency basis. Ashton will make his NHL debut, and his combination of size and speed along with his willingness to go the net may make him something to keep an eye on tonight.
While all the attention is focused on the absence of Sidney Crosby from the Penguins lineup the Leafs will catch a major break as all-star defenseman Kris Letang will miss tonight’s game with injury. Letang was a force in that home and home series in early February, and while the Penguins defense is criminally underrated they are not the same without Letang.
Time has become an enemy of the Leafs so a win tonight is essential if they are going to kick it into high gear. The Leafs should be the more desperate of the two teams tonight, and need the two points more than Pittsburgh does. Effort should not be an issue for the Leafs.
Ashton – Bozak – Kessel
Frattin – Grabovksi – MacArthur
Kulemin – Steckel – Connolly
Rosehill – Lombardi – Crabb
Gunnarsson – Phaneuf
Gardiner – Schenn
Liles – Komisarek
Kunitz – Malkin – Neal
Sullivan – Staal – Dupuis
Cooke – Vitale – Kennedy
Asham – Adams – Park
Orpick – Michalek
Martin – Niskanen
Strait – Lovejoy
Players to Watch
Leafs: Carter Ashton – Watching a prospect who has expectations on him make his NHL debut is always interesting. Can Ashton inject some size and ability onto the top lines? He will have some huge skates to fill as he steps in for Lupul.
Penguins: Evgeny Malkin – The leagues top scorer will be the key to the game tonight for the Leafs. Can he take over the game again like he did the last time these two teams met in this building? Contain Malkin and the Leafs can contain the Penguins.
Game Time: 7:30 at the Consol Energy Centre. TV – TSN. Radio – AM640.