Toronto Maple Leafs Game Preview: Joffrey Lupul Returns Against the Pittsburgh Penguins
We have all waited patiently and now it is time to drop the puck on a new season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Here at the Tip of the Tower we strive to give you as much content on your Toronto sports teams as humanly possible. This series will preview every single Toronto Maple Leafs game and what you should know for the game that night.
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Pittsburgh is 2-0 against Toronto this season, winning the last game 2-1 at the ACC.
Leafs Injury Report
Brandon Kozun is out with a high ankle sprain.
Roman Polak is out with a knee injury.
David Booth is expected to return from a broken foot.
Joffrey Lupul will make his return from a broken hand.
Expect changes to come for the forwards group with Lupul returning.
Penguins Injury Report
Pascal Dupuis is out indefinitely as a result of blood clots.
Nov 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk (21) skates away from Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman (6) en route to scoring his first goal in the second period at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Maple Leafs found a way to regroup after embarrassing losses to the Buffalo Sabres and the Nashville Predators to get two convincing wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings.
The Penguins will present the Leafs with a tough challenge considering that they have already beaten them twice this season. However, there is a trend that I noticed. The Leafs lost their first game against the Red Wings terribly 4-1. The next game they managed to play better, but still lost 1-0, before finally finding a way to beat the Red Wings on Saturday.
Nov 14, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Beau Bennett (19) carries the puck past Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf (3) at the Air Canada Centre. Pittsburgh defeated Toronto 2-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Against the Penguins the Leafs lost the first game badly 5-2, then in their second meeting were able to improve their play, losing just 2-1. Now, in the third meeting, it looks like their could be a chance the Leafs could come away with the victory. Why is this? Maybe the Leafs better understand the way their opponent plays? Or perhaps they looked at how their opponent took advantage of their mistakes and found a way to tidy them up. Now I am not suggesting that the Leafs will win against the Penguins, I just find it interesting.
Dec 16, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Joffrey Lupul (19) skates with the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Philip Samuelsson (55) defends during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Lupul could not have picked a better time to return to the lineup. He is the type of player that likes to play the body and use his speed to move the puck, along with his great shot. There have been rumours about the Leafs shopping Lupul, but in my opinion the Leafs do not have another player that provides the same consistent effort that he does every game along with being a heart and soul type of player.
Sep 28, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Booth clashes with Buffalo Sabres Drew Bagnall (10) in the second period at Air Canada Centre. Maple Leafs won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Booth is another player that can provide a great veteran presence as a part of the bottom six forward group. One reason why he was brought in this season was to provide scoring depth as a third or fourth line winger, but I do not expect him to be the 20 goal scorer he was in Florida. Losing Polak is a hard pill to swallow, but now it will be interesting to see which defenceman steps up his game because that toughness is hard to replace. It also gives Korbinian Holzer another chance to show the Leafs he is capable of playing at the NHL level, this could also be his last chance to do so.
The Penguins have been playing decently since their last game against the Leafs, winning three of their last five games and helping Marc-Andre Fleury get his 300th career victory. Their offence is one of the top forces in the league, scoring at a 3.5 goals per game pace (the best in the league) and they also have the best power play percentage with a 33.3% success rate.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Nov 27, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; The Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a goal by right wing Phil Kessel (right) as Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff (37) reacts during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 6-5 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Phil Kessel career vs PIT: 31 GP – 11 goals – 13 assist – 24 PTS
James van Riemsdyk career vs PIT: 22 GP – 7 goals – 8 assists – 15 PTS
Dion Phaneuf career vs PIT: 20 GP – 1 goals – 12 assists – 13 PTS
James Reimer career vs PIT: 6 GP – Record: 4-0-2 – 2.27 GAA – .931 SV%
Jonathan Bernier career vs PIT: 4 GP – Record: 0-3-1 – 3.48 GAA – .912 SV%
Nov 14, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) defends against Toronto Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov (47) during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Sidney Crosby career vs TOR: 30 GP- 21 goals – 26 assists – 47 PTS
Evgeni Malkin career vs TOR: 26 GP- 13 goals – 34 assists – 47 PTS
Chris Kunitz career vs TOR: 20 GP- 4 goals – 9 assists – 13 PTS
Kris Letang career vs TOR: 24 GP- 2 goals – 14 assists – 16 PTS
Marc-Andre Fleury career vs TOR: 29 GP – Record: 15-9-3 – 3.10 GAA – .892 SV%
Keys to Victory for Toronto
Dec 16, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Teams always have the tough task of figuring out ways to stop Crosby – the truth is that you cannot stop him completely. The best way to beat Crosby is by being physical and attempting to take his weapons away. Obviously most teams would not want to give Crosby a lot of scoring chances, but if the Leafs are able to limit these, they might have a chance to minimize his impact on the game. If the Leafs suddenly decide that they are solely going to cover just Crosby, then he will get the other players on his line more involved in the offence.
Nov 14, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist (72) tries to knock in a puck past Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) at the Air Canada Centre. Pittsburgh defeated Toronto 2-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs did not get off to the best start against the Penguins in their last game, but fortunately for them Bernier was able to keep them in check. The best way to avoid a poor start against the Penguins is to avoid being intimidated by them. Do not take unnecessary penalties, because the Penguins power play is just too good to stop.
The Leafs had a great chance to beat the Penguins in their last game, but were unable to get anything going on their power play. They went 0-6, which cannot happen. If a team like the Penguins gives you six power play opportunities, you have to take advantage of it.
Mar 14, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) celebrates his goal with right wing Phil Kessel (81) and forward James van Riemsdyk (21) as Pittsburgh Penguins forward Dustin Jeffrey (15) skates to the bench during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Kessel, JVR, Lupul and Tyler Bozak have to be at their best if the Leafs want any chance of coming away with the victory. The JVR, Kessel and Bozak line was practically invisible during their last game against Pittsburgh, with Bozak being replaced by Nazem Kadri. Bozak had a decent game against the Red Wings and it will be important for him to try and have more of a presence, especially if he is matched up against Crosby.
If Bernier gets the start (which he likely will) he has to be prepared for the Penguins to come out strong at the beginning of the game. He stopped 38 out of 40 shots against Pittsburgh in their last game, which would normally have been enough to give the Leafs the victory.
If the Leafs find a way to give a full 60 minute effort, then it should be a close game. Even if they do not get the win, it is more important for the Leafs to continue playing with the consistency from their games against Tampa Bay and Detroit.