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Montreal Canadiens centre Christian Dvorak chases Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitch Marner along the boards during the first period at Bell Centre.David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Growing up, like most any other hockey-playing teenager in Canada, Mitch Marner was a big fan of Sidney Crosby.

“He was the guy I always watched,” the Maple Leafs’ 25-year-old right wing said on Thursday. “He was always the guy you wanted to be on the ice against if you were lucky enough so it is always cool to line up against him. You know you are always going to have a challenging game.”

Marner will live out that dream again on Friday when the Pittsburgh Penguins pay a visit to Scotiabank Arena. The team is in a bit of a funk but Sid is still being Sid. The 35-year-old future Hall of Famer leads the Penguins with six goals and nine assists through 13 games.

He always seems to bring his best against Toronto: In 47 career games against the Maple Leafs, Crosby has 28 goals and 63 points. Only Alex Ovechkin has scored more often among active players, 41 times.

“He is pretty incredible,” said Auston Matthews, the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner. In 2021-22, Matthews became the first player in Toronto history to reach 60 goals. “He is the leader of that team and the guy that keeps it going.

“Even though he has gotten a little bit older, he has adjusted his game … no matter what the situation is. It is really impressive. He is a big guy who presents a challenge to opposing teams.”

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The Penguins come in with a 5-6-2 record but are 3-6-1 over their past 10 games. They are currently in an unusual place for them – next-to-last in the Metropolitan Division. The Maple Leafs are 7-4-3, have won three of their past four and rank fourth in the Atlantic Division.

Pittsburgh has qualified for the playoffs 16 seasons in a row.

Erik Kallgren, 1-1-3 with an .890 save percentage, will get the start in Toronto’s net. If not for injury, Matt Murray would have likely got the call against his former team. Murray, who is recovering from an adductor strain, practised on Thursday and possibly could start on Saturday against Vancouver in the second of back-to-back games.

Murray won Stanley Cups with the Penguins in his first two seasons in the NHL but has been traded to Ottawa and Toronto in the past two years. He hopes to revive what looks like a waning career.

He has fond memories of the five seasons he spent with Pittsburgh.

“I was so lucky in my time there to spend time with so many great players, coaches and staff,” Murray said. He started in an opening-night loss in Montreal and has not played since. “It is where I started my career and a big part of who I am. I am very thankful for it.”

The Penguins have had many outstanding players since Crosby entered the league as an 18-year-old in 2005-06 but he is unquestionably the best.

“You can’t say enough about Sid,” Murray said. “He is always going to push himself to be better and lead the way. That is just the kind of person he is.”

Pittsburgh went 2-1 against Toronto last year and is 18-10-2 in the past 30 meetings. It is the first of three games between them in the span of nine days. The Penguins have a deep roster that also includes Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel, Jeff Petry and Rickard Rakell.

There is only one Sid, however. In Yankees lexicon, he is the fellow that stirs Pittsburgh’s drink.

“I don’t know him that well, but from the outside you see how he trains, how he prepares, how seriously he takes his craft, and the ability he has and how competitive he is,” said Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs coach. “All those things add up to a guy who can play forever and still be productive.”

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