By: Jim Meinecke
The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to build on their good play from Thursday night as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Consol Energy Center. After starting the season 0-3, the Penguins finally earned their first win of the season against the Ottawa Senators 2-0 on Thursday night. Mike Johnston, who was no doubt feeling some heat after the Penguins lackluster start, decided to scratch the much maligned Rob Scuderi in favor of Adam Clendening. Sergei Plotnikov was also a healthy scratch in favor of the speedier Bryan Rust. Both moves seem to pay off as the defensive corps looked more comfortable with zone exits, and the forwards looked much more comfortable through the neutral zone and on the forecheck. Beau Bennett was also scratched due to an undisclosed lower-body injury, which gave Bobby Farnham another chance on the fourth line.
As happy as everyone was about the Rob Scuderi benching, it doesn’t appear it will last long. Expect Scuderi back in the lineup tonight against the Maple Leafs in place of Adam Clendening. I certainly don’t think we have seen the last of Clendening, nor should we, but he didn’t exactly have a stellar game on Thursday night (not saying Scuderi should be back in the lineup). He took a couple of careless penalties using his free hand to hold up one of the Senators, and he looked lost on a few occasions (not saying Scuderi should be back in the lineup). Sergei Plotnikov was off of the ice early during the morning skate, so expect to see him back in the lineup tonight. Most likely on a third line with Nick Bonino and Daniel Sprong. Speaking of Daniel Sprong, how impressive has the youngster been so far? He scored his first career NHL goal on Thursday, and he has consistently looked like one of the most threatening offensive weapons the Penguins have. He is making the most of his expanded role due to Bennett’s absence, and he has five more games to cement his role on this team for the remainder of the season. Here’s hoping it happens. Jeff Zatkoff was also off of the ice first during the morning skate, so don’t be surprised to see him get his first start of the regular season tonight. Finally, for as nice as it was for the Penguins to breakthrough with a win Thursday, they have still only managed five goals in four games this season. While the new offensive weapons are taking some time to gel, the power play is taking some time to click as well. They did, however, look a lot better on Thursday with Evgeni Malkin reunited with the first unit. While they didn’t score, they did have a number of quality scoring chances. Again, new pieces and a new setup will take some time.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town coming off of a 6-3 win against the winless Columbus Blue Jackets last night. It was Toronto’s first win of the season and first win under new coach Mike Babcock. Toronto will eventually be a much better team under the tutelage of Babcock, but for the time being, they are a team that is still trying to find itself. After trading Phil Kessel to the Penguins in the offseason, the Leafs lost one of their greatest offensive weapons. With that said, the Penguins will see some familiar faces in the visiting white and blue jerseys tonight. Nick Spaling, who came over in the Kessel trade, is centering a fourth line with Daniel Winnik on the wing. Penguins’ thorn, Michael Grabner, is on their third line after be acquired in a trade with the Islanders last month. While the season is young, the Leafs’ penalty kill has let them down so far this season giving up five goals in four games, including three goals in one contest to the Ottawa Senators. The Penguins will look for their first power play marker of the season against one of the league’s worst penalty-killing units so far this season. Leo Komarov, James van Riemsdyk, and Joffrey Lupul all lead the Leafs with two goals a piece thus far. Komarov and van Riemsdyk aren’t that surprising since they both play on the first line, but Lupul has spent much of the first four games on the fourth line and is coming off a disappointing 2014-15 season. Look for Jonathan Bernier to get the nod in goal tonight after James Reimer secured the win for the Leafs in Columbus last night.
Much will be made of Phil Kessel facing off against his old team, especially given the way he was treated by some of the media and fans. To Kessel’s credit, he has downplayed this to the media and has talked about how many friends he has on the team and how fond he was of playing in Toronto. While that all may be true, I fully expect Kessel to have a little extra jump on his skates tonight, and I expect a strong game against his old club. I also fully expect the Penguins to secure their second win of the season tonight, even with Zatkoff most likely in goal, and the return of Rob Scuderi to the starting lineup. The Penguins need to take advantage of scheduling, like they did on Thursday, and jump on a Leafs team early that may be a bit tired from playing in Columbus last night.
Puck drops at 7:08 and the game can be seen on ROOT sports. Thanks for reading.