5 Keys as the Toronto Maple Leafs Face the Pittsburgh Penguins
The Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking to change their fortune against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. The Leafs enter the game without a win against the Penguins in 2014-15 following two earlier losses.
The Leafs have been consistently inconsistent this season, with two wins in their past four games highlighting this. The club was pounded by the Nashville Predators and Buffalo Sabres to the tune of 15-4 before handing the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings losses in their two most recent games.
Let's take a look at five keys as the Maple Leafs head to Pittsburgh.
Sidney Crosby Versus Dion Phaneuf
Sidney Crosby normally sees a lot of Dion Phaneuf when he faces the Toronto Maple Leafs. While Phaneuf doesn't have the speed to contain Crosby in many situations, he does have the size and strength to deal with the Pittsburgh captain down low, where Crosby does his best work.
Phaneuf won't be able to stop Crosby, but containing him will be the overriding goal. With it being a Pittsburgh home game, the Penguins will be able to keep Crosby away from Phaneuf, at least to start some shifts.
The Leafs will likely have to use two different defensive pairings against the Penguins' top centre, but expect Phaneuf to be matched up against Crosby on the majority of his shifts.
Leafs Must Generate Some Offence
The Leafs have managed to score just three goals against the Penguins in two games this year. Conversely, the Penguins have scored seven times in the two contests.
The Leafs have to be better offensively in this third game. The club has leaned heavily on its top line this season, but Nazem Kadri, Mike Santorelli, Leo Komarov and returnee Joffrey Lupul have to contribute offensively.
The Penguins will focus on shutting down the Leafs' top line. On many nights, succeeding in that has led to a Toronto loss.
Secondary scoring will be the difference if the Leafs hope to win in Pittsburgh.
How Will the Leafs Deal with the Loss of Roman Polak?
While Roman Polak has not been flashy on the Leafs blue line, he has been effective. He's logged the second-most minutes on the defence corps and has sacrificed his body all over the ice.
But the defender could be out for four weeks, according to TSN Sports. Others are going to have to pick up the slack.
Cody Franson will be leaned on much more, while youngsters Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner will have to play some tough minutes that they may have been sheltered from otherwise.
The Leafs are going to miss Polak's shot-blocking abilities and his willingness to take the body, especially against some of the big, skilled forwards the Penguins boast.
Will Marc-Andre Fleury Continue His Early-Season Dominance?
Marc-Andre Fleury has had an exceptional start to the 2014-15 season. He's got a 12-3-1 record, and his goals-against average is a paltry 2.09. He's also sporting an excellent .926 save percentage.
Fleury has always been one of the better athletes at his position in the NHL. This season, he's also had the good fundamentals to back up his athleticism.
The Leafs have generated a lot of scoring chances, even in losses this year. Phil Kessel is going to have to lead this charge against Fleury and the Penguins.
Fleury has never looked unflappable for long stretches in his NHL career.
If the Leafs don't make it somewhat uncomfortable for the talented Penguins netminder, they'll be leaving Pittsburgh with another loss.
Will the Dads Bring the Leafs Some Luck?
It is a special set of road games for the Maple Leafs players. Their dads are along for the NHL ride this time around, which should be interesting on a few levels.
While there will be some distractions associated with this, obviously the players and the organization will hope the dads can bring some luck to the Leafs.
Many NHL players trace their roots in the games to their fathers. That inspiration will be called on as the Maple Leafs face the game's best player, Sidney Crosby, in one of the more intimidating rinks in the league.
Expect some fireworks in the Steel City.
All stats can be found on NHL.com unless noted otherwise.