Maple Leafs-Penguins Preview
Home ice hasn't been kind to the Pittsburgh Penguins lately, but the Toronto Maple Leafs certainly have.
The Penguins seek just their second home win in over a month Wednesday night when they face the Maple Leafs.
Pittsburgh (17-15-3) finds itself in an unfamiliar position, currently fifth in the Metropolitan Division and out of the playoffs if the season ended today. The Penguins have finished either first or second in eight of the last nine years and haven't sat out the postseason since 2005-06.
The offense has been a big disappointment despite the offseason addition of former Maple Leaf Phil Kessel. Pittsburgh ranks near the bottom of the league in goals per game (2.23) and power-play percentage (16.2).
Evgeni Malkin is one of the team's few players producing at an expected rate with 17 goals and 30 points. Sidney Crosby has only seven goals in 34 games while Patric Hornqvist has six after totaling 47 the past two seasons.
Another problem is the Penguins' less-than-stellar 9-7-2 home record that includes five losses in the last six games. They ended a five-game skid there with a 5-2 win over Columbus on Dec. 21.
Pittsburgh followed that with a 3-1 victory at Minnesota on Saturday, but failed to make it three straight the next night, falling 1-0 at Winnipeg.
Crosby, who had a three-game point streak snapped, said the back-to-back action was no excuse.
''We had a good (Christmas) break,'' he said. ''We should be well-rested. They jumped on us early and we got on our heels a bit. A better start definitely would have helped us.''
Crosby and his teammates should be happy to see the Maple Leafs (13-15-7) after winning the first two meetings this season and seven straight in the series, including four in a row at home.
This season's two victories, however, came with Marc-Andre Fleury in net and he hasn't played since Dec. 14 due to a concussion. Although Fleury returned to practice Tuesday for the first time, coach Mike Sullivan declined to offer a timetable for his return.
"I felt pretty good out there today," Fleury said in comments tweeted by the Penguins. "I'm not sure when I'm going to be back. It's going to be gradual."
Jeff Zatkoff made 27 saves in Sunday's loss and dropped to 0-4-1 with a 2.97 goals-against average in his last five starts.
Rookie Matt Murray is 2-1-0 with a 1.68 GAA in his first three NHL games.
Either Zatkoff or Murray will be facing a Toronto team that was cooled off with Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the visiting New York Islanders. The Leafs won the opener of that home-and-home set 3-1 on Sunday, and had recorded at least one point in seven of eight games (5-1-2).
Jonathan Bernier struggled mightily, allowing six goals on just 15 shots before he was replaced by James Reimer to start the third period.
''I don't think I was ready. I wasn't good enough tonight,'' Bernier said. ''Wasn't my game, I wasn't good and I just have to be better next game.''
Reimer's appearance was his first after missing seven games with a groin injury. He's likely to start this contest given his 4-0-2 record and 2.27 GAA against the Penguins.
Another victory, however, will be a challenge with Toronto 0-6-2 this season in the second game of back to backs.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang also practiced Tuesday after he was held out Sunday as a precaution. He took a shot to the head against the Wild.