He has had a remarkable start to his year, picking up points in all but one game and racing out to a solid lead in the NHL’s scoring race with 18 points after 10 games.
Now Sidney Crosby rolls into Toronto looking to pad his stat total against a franchise he has lit up in the past.
Crosby has 19 goals and 40 points in 25 career games against the Maple Leafs, which includes five points in three games last season when Toronto finished the year ranked fifth in the East.
He has had more success against the Leafs than most teams in the conference, too, as his 1.6 points per game ranks higher than his totals against all but four other teams he has faced regularly (New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers).
The Leafs, who fell to 7-4-0 this season after a loss in Columbus on Friday, wouldn’t reveal a specific game plan for shutting down the game’s top star, but noted they’ll always “be very aware” when he’s on the ice.
“He’s a very well rounded player,” Leafs defenceman Cody Franson said. “He does a little bit of everything very well. You have to play him close and try and make it a tough night on him. Do everything you can to keep him off the scoresheet.”
“As always, great players are great challenges,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “He has some tendencies that he likes to do but he finds ways to overcome a lot of the defensive systems and the people that he competes against. He takes it as a personal challenge.”
The Leafs have been starting games extremely slow as of late, getting outshot 58-25 in the first periods of their last five outings, and Carlyle is clearly looking for a reversal of that trend.
On the season, the only period Toronto isn’t getting badly outshot in is the third. But against a team like Pittsburgh, that type of night could put the Leafs down by several goals.
The Penguins boast some obvious threats in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but they also got defenceman Kris Letang back in last night’s loss to the Islanders and have played a very good overall possession game early on this season.
They’ll likely be a handful if the Leafs put up the same sort of lacklustre effort they did in Columbus.
“We weren’t anywhere near where we needed to be as far as engaged in the hockey game physically,” Carlyle said. “We seemed to be a half step behind… we didn’t play very well.”
“We know we have to come out with a big effort in order to try and take two points tonight,” Franson said. “If you don’t get up for a game like this then you’re going to get walked around. They’ve got a combination of skill, size and speed that will hurt you if you’re not prepared to play. It’s a good test for us as a team.”
- Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul is unlikely to play Saturday because of his foot injury, which the team is still investigating the seriousness of. Carlyle said Lupul was undergoing a CT scan to assess the damage, but they remain hopeful it’s just a bone bruise. “We felt if it would be best to see and explore if he’s got any further injury,” Carlyle said.
- Toronto recalled Carter Ashton and sent Josh Leivo down in a minor shakeup of their depth forwards. Both have been getting limited minutes during their time with the Leafs, with Ashton averaging just six minutes a night. “He was the best player as far as the coaching staff and management felt of his performances down there,” Carlyle said.
- Expect James Reimer to start for the Leafs and Marc-Andre Fleury to get the call for Pittsburgh. Both teams played Friday and used their other goaltenders, so a switch is likely.
- Leafs defenceman Mark Fraser skated on Saturday morning with the team and is getting closer to a return from his knee injury. He was on crutches for a few days when it originally happened on the second game of the season and believes he can play by the first week of November. Provided Lupul’s injury isn’t more significant than previously thought, Toronto could be fully healthy for the first time by the time they get a nearly week-long break starting Nov. 3.