The Leafs will be busy when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night, but getting away from Toronto just may be what the doctor ordered.
Since dropping two contests in dreadful fashion, the Leafs (11-8-2) have bounced back in the standings, saluted the crowd, and are looking to advance their winning streak to three games. All that controversy involving a salute – or lack thereof – was stupid, and it’s time people started focusing on the game itself.
So without further ado, let’s focus on what really matters.
The Penguins (13-4-2) sit atop the Metropolitan division, losing their last two games against the surging New York Islanders; however, before returning home, the Pens face the hard-hitting Boston Bruins tonight, which will hopefully tip things in Toronto’s favour.
But Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle is not taking anything for granted.
“We’ve got a job to do… we’ve got to prepare our hockey club to play the Pittsburgh Penguins who are up-tempo, fast-skating, [and] maybe have the best player in the world right now – specifically in Sidney Crosby – he’s in high gear,” he said.
While Crosby only has two points in his last five games, the Penguins have still won eight of their last ten, and the Leafs will need to be ready. When outshooting the opposition this season, the Penguins have won 90 per cent of their games, and Crosby is almost always a contributing factor. He is tied for second amongst the league in points with 26, and has four points in two games against Toronto this season.
The key to winning is obvious – keep Crosby off the score sheet.
More to the point, the Penguins have lost six contests this year, and Crosby has been held pointless in five of them. On Tuesday, the Pens captain ended an eight game scoreless drought, and now has one goal in his last nine games.
But if you give Crosby time and space he’ll always make something happen, registering 12 points in his last 10 appearances. The past two contests, the Leafs set the tempo from the first shift, and played a simple game. It goes without question that this mindset is key to securing a Wednesday night win.
“It’s easy to get really distracted in this market,” said Leafs centre Peter Holland. “We just have to stick with what we know in this dressing room… and I think we can be a good team when we do that.”
The Penguins have outshot the Leafs 81-56 this year, scoring three first-period goals in the process. On the flip side, the Leafs have yet to capitalize in the first 20, registering three goals against the Pens this season. Obviously, this needs to change if the Leafs hope to walk away with two points.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury leads the NHL with four shutouts, meaning the Leafs will need to crash the net, and shoot often. Fluery was in net when the Pens lost 5-4 in a shootout to the Islanders last Friday, registering his third loss of the year.
But against a quick team like Pittsburgh, the Leafs won’t have time to set up the perfect play, though Fluery is no stranger to letting a few loose pucks slip by, either.
New York Islanders winger Kyle Okposo scores a “bad goal” against Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game late in the second period during the 2013 season.
The Leafs currently hold the last wild card position in the east, which, despite recent commotion, is right where they should be at this point in the season. While a deal down the road may not be out of the question, this current squad should just be left alone.
So please don’t complain about salutes, and certainly don’t throw your jersey on the ice. I – like many others – don’t care whether the Leafs wave their sticks at centre ice, I really don’t. Scoring goals, stopping pucks, and positivity; that’s what matters.
At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, and it doesn’t involve a congregation at centre ice.
Let’s face it, everyone just wants the boys to win hockey games.