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Maple Leafs at Penguins - 12-16-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

PREGAME

-What can be said about these Pittsburgh Penguins as they're currently constructed? We'd call it a barebones roster but some of the bones are missing at this point. We can't recall a time when the Penguins' roster was as limited as it will be in this game and for the next handful of games. It would be one thing if it was just injuries but when you factor in suspensions as well, this is nothing short of baffling.

-As we wrote last week, we had a conversation with Blue Jackets center and former Penguin Mark Letestu about injuries. He thinks its the size of the rink which has led to so many injuries this season. Letestu played on a larger ice surface in Sweden during the lockout last season. While acknowledging the relative lack of physical play in Sweden is a factor, Letestu said the big ice rinks reduce high speed collisions.

-We think the short offseason off the delayed start to the 2012-13 season contributes to. There was less time to recover from what was a condensed scheduled last season. And when you factor in another condensed scheduled this season due tot he Olympic break, there just isn't much time for players to recover.

-There are times when we're covering hockey is a really cool job. Asking Chuck Kobasew an update on his health isn't really one of those times. Talking to Ulf Samuelsson is. If you didn't see it, read our interview with him here.

-Stop and consider how far Philip Samuelsson has come in his time with the Penguins. He was in the ECHL two years ago. Unless you're a goaltender, if you spend any time in the ECHL, that doesn't offer much of a sunny outlook in regards to your NHL prospects. He ironed out some shortcomings in his game and earned a role at the NHL level, albeit under extreme circumstances.

-It's amazing how how one seems to complain the Penguins draft too many defensemen at times like this. The Penguins haven't just recalled mid-round draft picks or projects to patch up their blue line. They have some high-end talent in the lineup. They have three first-round picks (Simon Despres, Olli Maatta, Matt Niskanen), two second-round picks (Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson) and a third-round pick (Robert Bortuzzo). These players might be lean on experience but they have plenty of talent.

-This defense will get a test tonight from the Maple Leafs. Toronto has a lot of skill up front on the wings. Phil Kessel, Mason Raymond, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk give experienced defensemen trouble.

-The Maple Leafs are a little beat up at center with Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak injured. Toronto made a trade a few weeks ago for former Ducks first rounder Peter Holland who was stuck behind some impressive depth in Anaheim. Having gotten a little more playing times, he's responded with a respectable six points in 12 games with Toronto.

-The barn:

-The ice:

-A few jerseys around the barn. Robert Bortuzzo:

-We always run into a Craig Adams fan:

-Why yes, that would be a T.J. Kemp Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins jersey:

-Fans entering the barn:

-There is a Rico Fata-level of Maple Leafs infiltration tonight. Mats Sundin:

-Doug Gilmour:

-Man... ex-Penguins and Maple Leafs forward Tim Brent:

-Darcy Tucker:

-Tie Domi:

-Wendel Clark:

-Jersey Foul of the Night: James Reimer with a maple leaf hoodie:

-International Jersey Foul of the Night: Jonathan Toews Team Canada:

-A good night for rough and tumble defensemen. Darius Kasparaitis:

-Zarley Zalapski:

-The last No. 55, Sergei Gonchar:

-The father of the current No. 55, Ulf Samuelsson:

-Warm-ups:

-The Penguins' starters are Chris Conner, Brandon Sutter, the great Joe Vitale, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Dumoulin and Marc-Andre Fleury.

-Their scratches are Deryk Engelland, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

-The Maple Leafs' starters are Peter Holland, Joffrey Lupul, Mason Raymond, Carl Gunnarsson, Dion Phaneuf and Jonathan Bernier.

-Their scratches are David Clarkson, Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger.

-Jeff Jimerson, who we're told required a police escort to handle his duties, handles his duties:

FIRST PERIOD

19:21: Hard work pays off. Conner settles a puck behind the cage and deals to the great Joe Vitale and in front. Sutter and Vitale can't settle the puck and get a clean shot off. Vitale is able to deal a pass to Dumoulin in the left circle. After some hesitation, Dumoulin rips a wrister which glances off the leg of Conner and behind Bernier. The Penguins' third line simply out-worked the Maple Leafs for that score. Conner gets credit for the goal. Dumoulin and the great Joe Vitale get assists. It's Dumoulin's first career point. The Hey Song is always hard working. Wilkes-Barre/ScrantonPenguins 1-0.

17:41: From the left wing corner, Zach Sill pitchforks a pass to the left wing corner to Matta at the left point. Matta whips a shot at the net which Bernier eats up despite traffic.

15:50: The third lien almost cases in again. After Vitale battles for puck in the right wing corner, Conner and Vitale each have a chance in tight but Bernier holds them at bay.

15:45: Off an offensive zone faceoff wing, Samuelsson rips a wrister from the right point which is wide of the cage.

15:16: Backpeddling from the left circle, Kessel snaps off a laser on net. Fleury fights it off.

13:35: Jay McClement takes a pass down low on the goal line on the right wing and tries to jam in a forehand shot. FLeury holds it out.

13:29: Dumoulin gets his first career penalty as he hooked Nikolai Kulemin. That's two minutes. Sutter, Adams, Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta take the ice.

12:27: Morgan Rielly races into the offensive zone with speed and chips a simple wrister high on net. Fleury stops it but allows it to plop down between his legs. Officials blow play dead before Bortuzzo backhands it down ice.

10:45: From the right circle, Kunitz flings a feed to the slot for Crosby but their timing is off and Crosby fails to connect with the pass.

9:48: Zolnierczyk races for a puck int he left wing corner and chips it to Jokinen in the right wing corner. Jokine settles the puck and whips it to the slot for Megna who can't get a stick on the puck.

9:21: Vitale rattles Raymond on the left wing boards in front of the Penguins' penalty box with a big hit.

9:16: Maatta chops a one-timer from the left point which deflects juuuuust wide.

9:03: Maatta gets another chance from the left point. Bernier eats up his shot. Raymond exchanges a few pleasantries with Vitale afterwards.

8:56: Off an offensive zone faceoff win, Bortuzzo chips a puck from the left circle. Bernier kicks it out.

8:42: Bortuzzo and Phaneuf get tangled up behind the Toronto net. Phaneuf throws a gloved punch at Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo doesn't respond. No penalty.

8:22: Phaneuf knocks over Dupuis with a hit near left wing wall of the Penguins' zone.

8:14: Maatta rips a wrister from the left circle. Bernier smothers it as Crosby slides into him.

518: Holland whacks a one-timer from the right circle. Despres blocks it and allows the puck to drop to his skates. He fends off a forecheck by Lupul and taps the puck to Samuelsson who skates it out of danger. That was a great display of chemistry between two defenseman who have been teamed together at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

4:54: Bortuzzo and Troy Bodie drop the gloves in the Penguins' slot. It's kind of a sloppy, wild fight with two big men swinging away with punches, many of which fail to connect. Bodie slips a bit and recovers they wrestle around a bit before Bortuzzo falls with Bodie on top. Bortuzzo seemed to not care for a hit by Bodie and that sparked the fight. We understand it's a heat of the moment and fighting is part of Bortuzzo's game but we're not sure we understand the sense of Bortuzzo fighting and risking injury given the Penguins' issues on the blue line at the moment.

4:01: After stealing a puck off Carl Gunnarsson on the right half wall of the Toronto zone, Jokinen deals a pass to Zolnierczyk at the left half wall. Zolnierczyk releases a wrister which Bernier eats up.

2:08: Niskanen chops a slapper from the right point which Bernier challenges and eats up.

0:41: Off an offensive zone faceoff win, Phaneuf lofts a wrister from center point over the cage.

0:23: Jerry D'Amigo chops a slapper from the left wing wide on the near side.

0:00: End of period. Crosby is on the bench with team staff member who appears to be helping wipe something from either his visor or eyes. Crosby eventually heads to the dressing room after the rest of his teammates. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 1, Maple Leafs 0.

FIRST INTERMISSION

-All things considered, that was a pretty good period for the Penguins. They were hard on pucks, they hustled and had a slight edge in puck possession in the Maple Leafs' zone.

-Maatta was pretty aggressive with his shot that period. He wasn't shy about firing the puck from the point.

-The third line was outstanding. The great Joe Vitale, Sutter and Conner simply created things with their hustle. They were the best line for either team that period.

-Crosby had a fairly quite opening period. Considering the absences they have, a big performance from him would be helpful.

-So far so good for Philip Samuelsson. He looked like he belongs at this level. He was teamed with Despres and their chemistry was very evident.

-The Penguins have a 15-7 lead in shots on net.

-The Penguins have an 18-14 lead in attempted shots.

-Maatta leads the game with three shots.

-van Riemsdyk, Rielly and Kessel each lead the game with three shots.

-Niskanen leads the game with 8:52 of ice time.

-Phaneuf leads the Maple Leafs with 8:29.

-The Penguins have a 12-11 lead in faceoffs (52 percent).

-Nazem Kadri is 6 for 10 (60 percent).

-Sutter is 5 for 9 (56 percent).

-No one has more than one blocked shots.

SECOND PERIOD

19:47: Off an offensive zone faceoff win, Gunnarsson whips a wrister from the left point. Fleury fights it off.

19:36: Getting loose on a rush up the left wing, Crosby cranks a slapper from the left circle, Bernier eats it up.

18:51: A wrister by Kessel from the right wing is blocked high over the cage by the stick of Despres.

18:20: Franson snaps off a wrister from the right point which is blocked.

18:05: Depsres lifts a wrister from the left point which is blocked in front.

17:29: Niskanen wires a quick slapper from the right point. Bernier deflects it out of play.

16:13: Taking a cross-ice feed from Jokinen, Megna has a little space on the left wing and releases a wrister which Bernier eats up.

15:37: Attendance is announced as 18,573. It is the team's 304th consecutive sellout.

15:30: The lines are switched up. Dupuis is on the third line while the great Joe Vitale is ont eh first line.

15:22: Another Toronto power play. Niskanen roughedKadri in the Penguins' right wing corner while battling for a puck. Maatta, Adams, Sutter and Bortuzzo take the ice.

14:33: Franson lifts a wrister from the right point. van Riemsdyk is slightly to the right of the net and re-directs it on net with the shaft of his stick.

13:57: Tie game. Rielly races into the offensive zone on the right wing, cuts across the high slot and lifts a wrister from above the left circle by Fleury's blocker. Fleury looked completely fooled by that shot. It's Rielly's first career goal. Franson and Bernier get assists. Maple Leafs 1, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 1.

13:45: Another chance for the Maple Leafs. Off a neutral zone turnover by Samuelsson, D'Amigo rips a heavy wrister on net. Fleury eats it up.

13:25: Gunnarsson whips a wrister from the right point which hits off a stick and deflects on net. Fleury kicks it out.

13:06: Phaneuf and D'Amigo each have a chance in tight

12:55: Niskanen takes a pass at the right point and booms a one-timer off the mark.

12:21: Zolnierczyk races up the right wing and flips a little forehand shot on net. Bernier fights it off.

12:14: Samuelsson booms a slapper from the right point wide of the cage.

12:05: Samuelsson rips a wrister from the right point which hits a stick.

10:53: Kadri lifts a wrister from above the left circle. Fleury knocks it dead and covers.

10:35: Dumoulin slides a pass from the left point to Kunitz at center point. Kunitz cranks a slapper which Bernier eats up.

9:52: D'Amigo chips a puck up the right wing and tries to chase it down but he gets plastered into the half wall by Sill for his troubles.

9:42: Chuck Kobasew hustles up the right wing an flings a backhander which Peter Holland deflects wide with a determined backcheck.

9:27: Big save. Getting loose on the right wing, Raymond gets behind Despres and races in on net. He attacks the net and lifts a wrister which Fleury snags.

9:15: Troy Bodie apparently hasn't enough time in the penalty box as he drops the gloves with Zach Sill at center ice. Bodie (6-foot-5, 226 pounds) has quite a size advantage on Sill (6-foot-0, 202 pounds). Sill does a marvelous job of ducking his punches and landing a few of his own. Eventually Bodie slips to the ice but recovers. He lands one big left which staggers Sill a bit. Sill fights on and lands his own big left. Eventually Bodie slips and falls to the ice. Give that win to Sill.

8:23: Jokinen snaps off a wrister from the left wing which Bernier steers away.

8:06: Samuelsson pops a slapper from the right point which hits a stick and deflects out of play.

7:05: A backhander by Dupuis from the left wing is blocked by Franson.

6:20: Dumoulin grips a rips a wrister from the right point which is juuuust wide the far slide.

6:07: After Sutter steals a puck in the right wing with a big hit on Holland, Vitale deals it to Jokinen on the right wing. Jokinen has an acre of ice to work with and lifts a wrister which Bernier eats up.

5:48: Fleury bails out his teammates. Kessel cranks a one-timer from the center point. Fleury fights it off. Kunitz tries to skate it out of danger but Kadri steals it. He deals to Kessel in the right circle who lifts a wrister. Fleury eats it up. Kunitz owes Fleury a beer.

5:31: Play is halted as Crosby and Kadri tangle up in the left point of the Toronto zone. Crosby is the oly player penalized as he socked Kadri int eh back of the head. That's two minutes for roughing. A stupid, selfish penalty. Sutter Adams, Bortuzzo and Maatta take the ice.

3:54: Sutter lifts a rister form the right point on net. Bernier fights it off.

3:44: Phaneuf booms a slapper from the right point wide to the far side.

3:31: The Crosby minor is killed with little threat.

2:55: Tumbling to the ice under Despres, Lupuis is able to lift a wrister from the left wing. Fleury eats it up.

2:29: Bortuzzo puts a slapper on net from center point. Bernier eats it up.

1:33: Zolnierczyk and and Phaneuf mix it up prior to a faceoff with Phaneuf crosschecking Zolnierczyk. Officials step in and send each player to their respective dressing rooms for unsportsmanlike conduct. We'll have four on-four for play for two minutes.

1:09: Kessel deals a pass from above the right circle to Gardiner streaking down the slot. Gardner redirects it on net and Fleury eats it up.

0:00: End of period. Maple Leafs 1, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 1.

SECOND INTERMISSION

-Play leveled off quite a bit that period. The Maple Leafs had the bulk of scoring chances, thanks in part to a few power plays.

-The Penguins need a little more from Sidney Crosby. He's been a considerable non-factor tonight. Add in a selfish penalty and he's not done enough to help his team.

-You could see a few more mistakes that period from the Penguins' young defensive corp. Samuelsson and Despres permitted two really quality chances with speed to the Maple Leafs. Olli Maatta permitted an ugly odd-man break as well during four-on-four play.

-The Penguins still displayed plenty of speed. They just can't finish given the limited talent in the lineup.

-The Penguins have a 26-20 lead in shots on net.

-The Maple Leafs have a 36-35 edge in attempted shots.

-Niskanen leads the game with five shots.

-Kessel and van Riemsdyk each lead the Maple Leafs with four shots.

-Phaneuf leads the game with 16:04 of ice time.

-Maatta leads the Penguins with 15:53.

-The Penguins have a 28-23 lead in faceoffs (55 percent).

-Crosby is 12 for 20 (60 percent).

-McClement is 10 for 16 (63 percent).

-The Penguins have a 28-23 lead in faceoffs (55 percent).

THIRD PERIOD

20:00: The period will being with 27 seconds of four-on-four play on fresh ice.

19:33: Play returns to five on five.

18:34: John-Michael Liles lifts a wrister from the left point. Fleury eats it up.

18:02: Kessel tries to jam in a forehand wraparound from the left of the cage. Fleury smothers it.

17:53: The Penguins get their first power play. Megna races up the right wing and gets a step on Gardiner. Gardner reaches out and hooks him a bit. That's two minutes. That seemed a little bit of a ticky-tack call. Dumoulin, Niskanen, Crosby Jokinen and Kunitz take the ice.

16:50: Racing into the offensive zone with a fury, Crosby controls the puck on his backhand, fends off a checker and lifts a backhander wide to the far side from the right circle.

15:53: The Gardiner minor is killed with little threat from the Penguins.

15:31: Bortuzzo strokes a slapper from the right point. Bernier fights it off. There is a scramble for the rebound but no one in a black jersey can get a clean handle on it.

14:02: Megna blocks a slapper by Liles at the left point. The puck kicks out through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. Bernier races out to the puck before Megna can get to it and they collide. Megna pop up in the air and crashes into the left wing boards. As play moves back up ice, Megna gets up with a considerable limp. Despite that, Rielly decides to cross-check him in the back as he struggles to the bench. We're willing to bet Rielly has had braver moments in his life.

12:45: A wrister fro Lupul in the slot hits a body and deflects away.

9:52: Despres flings a wrister from the left point which Bernier eats up.

9:41: D'Amigo tries to chip and chase a puck up ice from the neutral zone and is leveled on a shoulder check by Bortuzzo. Play is halted as D'Amigo is on the ice in discomfort. An athletic trainer rushes out to D'Amigo who eventually recovers to his skates and heads to the dressing room. Bortuzzo is given a minor for a check to the head. Based on the limited replays we have, it was tough to say what the principal point of contact was. Sill, Dupuis, Despres and Maatta take the ice.

8:28: Dupuis chases down a puck on the right wing and backhands it to the crease. Sill tries to jab it on net but Bernier smothers it.

7:41: Rielly whacks a slapper from center point. Fleury kicks it out. Despres clears the rebound.

7:41: The Bortuzzo minor is killed with little threat.

7:03: Trevor Smith lifts a wrister from the left circle wide of the cage.

6:41: Sidney Crosby's quiet night ends as he scored a go-ahead goal. After Gardner fails to chip puck out of his own zone, Bortuzzo keeps it in and deals to Dupuis on the right half wall. Dupuis deals to Crosby in the slot. All alone, Crosby picks a a shot by the glove hand of Bernier to take the lead. xx get assists. The "Hey Song" is never quiet. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2-1.

5:13: D'Amigo is back on the ice and is plastered into the left wing board in the neutral zone by Bortuzzo. D'Amigo heads to the bench then the dressing room in more discomfort.

2:44: Phaneuf chips a puck from the left wing to the blue paint. It hits off the stick of Jay McClement and glances off the far post.

2:37: After an icing call, the Penguins call a timeout to get organized.

1:27: Jokinen chips a puck from the neutral zone to the right wing corner of the Toronto zone to kill some clock.

1:15: Bernier is pulled for an extra attacker.

1:05: The Maple Leafs will get a late chance to tie this game up. Kunitz is called for tripping Kadri in the Penguins' right wing circle. The Maple Leafs call timeout to get organized. Sutter, Maatta, Adams and Niskanen take the ice.

0:52: The Maple Leafs turn the puck over in the left circle and Adams chips it down ice.

0;12: Lupul whips a wrister from the left circle off the side of the cage.

0:03: Stealing a puck off Phaneuf at the left point, Sutter pushes it to the neutral zone and airmails it to the open cage for one of us:

http://old.post-gazette.com/images4/empty_netters_500x85_new.jpg

-The goal is unassisted. The "Hey Song" is played. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3-1.

0:00: End of game. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3, Maple Leafs 1.

POSTGAME

-First things first, Robert Bortuzzo will not be disciplined for his hit against Jerry D'Amigo:

If you didn't see Bortuzzo's hit on D'Amigo:

-That is a tough, tough call. The way D'Amigo's head jerks back in the reverse angle looks horrible. Based on that view, it looks like the head was the principal point of contact. At the same time, D'Amigo is 5-foot-9 and leaning down into a 6-foot-4 Bortuzzo. Additionally, Bortuzzo doesn't appear to be targeting the head of D'Amigo as he was looking at the puck at the time of contact.

-We have a hard time arguing or defending either point of view on this. It's so close and it happens in such a flurry of action.

-As far as the game is concerned, It was touch and go for most of the night but the Penguins were able to grind out a hard fought win with a depleted lineup once again. What they've accomplished the past week despite the absences in their lineup has been spectacular.

-Sidney Crosby did not have a very good game for most of the night. He failed to create much offense and he allowed Nazem Kadri to rattle him a few times. But once the Penguins were able to take advantage of a matchup off a Toronto icing, Crosby was able to get free of Dion Phaneuf and come though with a clutch game-winning goal.

-It was hardly a perfect game from the Penguins' blue line. They allowed a few odd-man rushes at times and quality scoring chances. But considering the circumstances, the Penguins' young defensemen stood up well to a talented crew of Maple Leafs forwards.

-Bortuzzo was a monster out there. He was physical and gave the Penguins a presence around their own cage against a team which isn't shy about mixing it up. Poor Jerry D'Amigo probably never wants to see Bortuzzo ever again.

-The chemistry between Simon Despres and Philip Samuelsson was evident immediately. They looked like they hadn't skipped a shift let alone weeks of games together and worked well tonight. They had a few mistakes at times but they gave a solid outing tonight. In his NHL debut, Samuelsson had 15:43 of ice time on 22 shifts.

-Brian Dumoulin came through with another solid effort. He looked confident and composed. He had 18:08 of ice time on 28 shifts, recorded one shot, one assists and one blocked shot.

-Matt Niskanen gave the Penguins another strong effort as the team's de facto No. 1 defenseman In 25:39 of work on 35 shifts, he had five shots and provided a steadying, veteran presence at a position which was lean on experience.

-Thank goodness the Penguins hung on to Olli Maatta. We were all about sending him back to juniors after his nine-game tryout. It's not just a matter of him deserving to be here. He needs to be here. Where is this team if he's not available right now?

-More injury news for the Penguins:

-That's a real shame since Megna played a really good game. He helped create a few scoring chances with his speed and hustle tonight.

-We like the Penguins' third line tonight. Brandon Sutter, Chris Conner and the great Joe Vitale aren't the most physically imposing trio you'll see on an NHL rink but they aren't afraid to mix it up on the forecheck using speed. They created the Penguins' first goal by simply outskating the Maple Leafs in their own zone.

-We thought Jussi Jokinen had an underrated game. He was sharp in terms of passing. He set up his linemates with some decent chances. But when your linemates are Megna and Harry Zolnierczyk, you can only expect so much in terms of production. Jokinen was 9 for 11 in the faceoff dot as well (82 percent).

-The goal by Morgan Rielly aside, Marc-Andre Fleury came through with another strong effort. He kicked out some safe rebounds and didn't seem to battle the puck that much. He had a few plays where he got a little too scrambly in his crease but he earned this win.

-The Penguins' special teams had a bit of an off night. The power play was really flat on its only chance and the penalty kill went 1 for 5. Considering the circumstances, a step back in this area is understandable.

-Jonathan Bernier probably deserved a better fate. The two goals he allowed - a deflection off Conner's body and a point-blank wrister by the best player on earth were forgivable.

-The Maple Leafs stuck Nazem Kadri on Crosby most of the night and he did an effective job of knocking Crosby off his game. Kadri is a pretty good skater and seemed to be able to keep up with the pace Crosby plays at.

-We dont'w ant to say the Maple Leafs' top scorers were quiet. They had plenty of offensive chances. That said, we've seen much more dominant efforts by the likes of Phil Kessel James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul. The Maple Leafs needed more from their best players.

-We admittedly only so so much about hockey, but if Troy Bodie accomplished anything in his 3:10 of ice time, it wasn't apparent to to these eyes.

-The Penguins led in shots on net, 31-26.

-The Maple Leafs led in attempted shots, 50-45.

-Niskanen, van Riemsdyk and Kessel each led the game with five shots on net.

-Chuck Kobasew and Samuelsson were the only Penguins skaters who failed to record a shot on net.

-Phaneuf led the game with 25:42 of ice time.

-Niskane was right behind him with 25:39.

-The Penguins had a 43-32 lead in faceoffs (57 percent).

-Crosby was 17 for 14 (55 percent).

-Jay McClement was 14 for 25 (56 percent).

-Maatta led the game with four blocked shots.

-Peter Holland and Carl Gunnarsson each led the Maple Leafs with two blocked shots.

-Crosby has a seven-game scoring streak.

-Dumoulin recorded his first career point.

-Bortuzzo's assist was his first point of the season.

-Crosby (712 points) moved past former Penguins forward Charlie Simmer (711) for 206th place on the NHL's all-time scoring list.

-Game summary.

-Event summary.

-Highlights:

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About the Maple Leafs - 12-16-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

A preview of the Maple Leafs.

When and where: 7 p.m. EST. Consol Energy Center.

TV: Root Sports (Pittsburgh market), NHL Network (rest of the United States), SportsNet Ontario, RDS.

Record: 17-14-3, 37 points. The Maple Leafs are in fifth place in the Atlantic Division.

Leading Scorer: Phil Kessel, 32 points (17 goals, 15 assists).

Last Game: 7-3 home win against the Blackhawks, Saturday. Joffrey Lupul had two goals and two assists for the Maple Leafs.

Last Game against the Penguins: 6-5 road shootout loss, Nov. 27. James van Riemsdyk (right) had two regulation goals and an assist the Maple Leafs.

Maple Leafs Player We Would Bet Money On Scoring: van Riemsdyk. He has five points in his past two games against the Penguins.

Ex-Penguins on the Maple Leafs: Randy Carlyle, head coach; Trevor Smith, C.

Ex-Maple Leafs on the Penguins: Tom Fitzgerald, assistant to the general manager.

Useless Maple Leafs Trivia Vaguely Related to the Penguins: Kessel (538) has played the most regular season game of any player selected in the 2006 draft. Hurricanes forward and former Penguin Jordan Staal is second with 513.

Best Maple Leafs Video We Could Find: Maple Leafs forward Eddie Shack, a former Penguin, fighting another former Penguin, forward Bob Leiter of the Bruins, after breaking the glass during a 1963-64 season:

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (18-8-1, 2.01 GAA, .924 SV%) for the Penguins. Jonathan Bernier (10-10-2, 2.55 GAA, .925 SV%) for the Maple Leafs.

Injuries: For the Penguins, center Evgeni Malkin ("lower-body") is day to day. Defensemen Kris Letang ("upper body"), Paul Martin (leg), Brooks Orpik (head), Rob Scuderi (ankle), right winger Beau Bennett (hand/wrist), center Andrew Ebbett (ankle), left winger Tanner Glass (hand) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (blood clots) are on injured reserve. For the Maple Leafs, center Dave Bolland (ankle), Tyler Bozak (oblique) and right winger Colton Orr (elbow) are on injured reserve.

Potential lines and defensive pairings: The Penguins primary lines and defensive pairings at today's morning skate were:

14 Chris Kunitz - 87 Sidney Crosby - 9 Pascal Dupuis
39 Harry Zolnierczyk - 36 Jussi Jokinen - 59 Jayson Megna
23 Chris Conner - 16 Brandon Sutter - 46 Joe Vitale
27 Craig Adams - 36 Zach Sill - 12 Chuck Kobasew

2 Matt Niskanen - 3 Olli Maatta
41 Robert Bortuzzo - 8 Brian Dumoulin
47 Simon Despres - 55 Philip Samuelsson

-The Maple Leafs lines and defensive pairings at today's morning skate were:

21 James van Riemsdyk - 43 Nazem Kadri - 81 Phil Kessel
12 Mason Raymond - 24 Peter Holland - 19 Joffrey Lupul
29 Jerry D'Amigo - 11 Jay McClement - 41 Nikolai Kulemin
38 Kyle McLaren - 23 Trevor Smith - 40 Troy Bodie

3 Dion Phaneuf - 36 Carl Gunnarsson
51 Jake Gardiner - 4 Cody Franson
26 John-Michael Liles - 44 Morgan Reilly

Notes:

-The last time the Penguins played the Maple Leafs, this happened:

-For the Penguins, Deryk Engelland and James Neal are suspended.

-Samuelsson is expected to make his NHL debut. His father, former Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, is traveling to Pittsburgh to attend.

-Letang and Scuderi are expected to be sidelined until after Christmas.

-The Penguins top power play at today's morning skate was Crosby, Jokinen, Kunitz, Dumoulin and Niskanen.

-Smith is familiar with the Penguins' younger defensemen.

-For the Maple Leafs, right winger David Clarkson is suspended.

-Carlyle will coach his 100th game with the regular season.

-Ranger has 99 career points.

-Our live blog begins at approximately 6 p.m. Please tune in.

(Photo: Derek Leung/Getty Images)

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Son's debut will be 'special' for Ulf Samuelsson - 12-16-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

 

A familiar and popular name is expected to be in the lineup tonight when the Penguins face the Maple Leafs at Consol Energy Center as Philip Samuelsson will make his NHL debut.

Also expected to be present will be the reason that name is familiar and popular for Penguisn fans. His father, former Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelson, is making the trip to Pittsburgh to see his son's first taste of NHL action.

Ulf, currently an assistant coach with the Rangers, roamed the blue line for the Penguins in the early 1990s as a hard-hitting and antagonistic defenseman who helped the franchise claim its first two Stanley Cup titles. His style of play made him a villain everywhere outside of Pittsburgh where he became a fan favorite. Even hall-of-fame Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert claimed Ulf Samuelsson as his favorite player.

Philip, a second-round pick in 2009, will try to make his own name at the NHL level beginning tonight.

Earlier this afternoon, Ulf Samuelsson talked by phone about his son's NHL debut:

What's your reaction to your son being recalled?

"Well very exciting obviously. I know Philip has worked really hard. I think it should be a credit to him and a lot of credit to the Penguins organization and to [head coach John] Hynes and [assistant coach Alain] Nasreddine in Wilkes Barre. They’ve really taken their time and put in a lot of hours into this. Philip should be proud and they should be proud. I’m proud as a father."

What is the scouting report on him? How similar is he to how you played?

"He’s very good defensively. I think that’s his strength. He’s developed into one a top AHL penalty killer. He’s also had a shutdown role. That’s really similar to what I was. I think Phil is a better passer than I was. He sees the ice well. I think he’s a modern-day defending defenseman that is good enough to pass himself out of trouble a lot instead of trying to bang it out."

How involved have you been in coaching or developing him?

"It’s obviously a common interest we have. It’s really all about hockey our family. We have four kids and they’re all involved in hockey. So it’s obviously a topic that comes up a lot. Phil, he’s been with the Penguins, a great organization, a great system and place to grow and work. They’ve done the grunt work. I’ve just helped out here and there. He’s done a lot on his own."

How often do you communicate with him?

"A daily basis. That’s one thing, the communication in our family, we have cell phones everywhere. We’re keeping up with each other frequently. We’re a pretty strong-bonded family that way."

Will you be able to get to Pittsburgh for tonight's game?

"We’re going down here in about an hour so. My wife is here. My daughter is in from Sweden – she was over there trying out for the Swedish Olympic team - and my youngest son is also going to come down. The only person who is going to miss is my second oldest son, [Coyotes forward prospect Henrik Samuelsson]. He is in Minnesota trying out for the [United States World Junior Championship] team."

What does it mean that he's making his debut with the Penguins given your history with the organization?

"He’s trying to make his footing somewhere. He feels that our family has that history [in Pittsburgh] so it’s certainly special for Philip too. It’s a new era and everything down there. I certainly have a sweet spot in my heart for the Penguins organization. It really is special."

You made your NHL debut with the Hartford Whalers in 1984-85. What do you remember about your first NHL experience?

"I remember how hard it was. I played three years in the [Swedish Elite League] before I came here and I thought I was going to come waltz in and play. Being over there the last couple of years coaching in Sweden and being back over there the last couple of years coaching in Sweden and being back here you realize how good [NHL] players are. To me, it’s just amazing of the performances and the skill on a daily basis in the National Hockey League. I’m really thrilled and excited to be a part of it again. I think that to me is what I remember, how good players are in the National Hockey League."

It's very possible he will be in the lineup Wednesday when the Penguins face the Rangers in New York. What will the balancing act of being a father versus being an opposing coach be like?

"Well I told him I’m coming down now to watch his team play, not him play. I told him we’re not friends … maybe a little of friends today. Maybe, I’ll be harder Wednesday if he’s in the lineup. No… seriously, with coaching you’ve got to be really focused and on top of your game with matchups and taking it all in. When the game starts, you really don’t have a lot of time. I’m sure I’ll be looking at Philip if he’s in the lineup a couple of times and trying to regaine my focus. It will be a challenge."

(Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

 

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A few more notes from Aaron Donald's awards week

Written by Sam Werner on .

After a whirlwind week around the country, Aaron Donald is now back in Pittsburgh with his team, getting ready to face Bowling Green in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl Dec. 26 in Detroit. Pitt's practices early this week are closed to the media, but we'll be able to attend later in the week, at which point I'll provide some team updates.

If you haven't already, check out my story from yesterday's Post-Gazette chronicling my time with Donald over the past week, as well as how he got to where he is today. Here are a few notes and outtakes that didn't make it into the story.

- Donald says he keeps in constant contact with his older brother, Archie, Jr., who played at Toledo and even got a couple of sniffs in the NFL. Much like Aaron, Archie is a bit of a perfectionist.
"We're the best of friends," Aaron said. "My brother constantly comments [on my games]. He breaks it down like he's watching himself. He breaks down and is like 'You had a good game, but you took this play off. You could've made this tackle if you would've run full speed.'"

- As anyone who knows him knows, Donald really isn't one to read his own press clippings, so to speak. He did say the one thing he really enjoys about being a star college football player is when he gets to interact with younger fans.
"The best thing is when kids come up to me and go, 'Are you Aaron Donald?' And they're excited to meet me and see me," he said. "I always enjoy that just to see that the kids are looking up to me. That's a great feeling to see that. I can't explain that. It's just a real good feeling to see the kids look up to me."
Donald got to enjoy some time with kids last week when he visited the Texas Children's Hospital as part of the Lombardi Award festivities.
Earlier this season, Donald got a hand-written letter from young fan in Louisiana requesting an autograph/
"As soon as I read it, I started writing him right back," Donald said. "I wrote him a letter, put a little card in there, signed it for him. It's a blessing, man, to see that kid looking up to me and cheering for me."

- Pitt coach Paul Chryst said the Panthers' recruits are aware of Donald's accomplishments, but he also didn't want to take advantage of Donald's hard work for recruiting purposes.
"First of all, it's an individual award," Chryst said. "Aaron earned this. Fortunately, for me personally, I was able to be a part of two of those years. I think, for the program, it just reinforces what's already happened in that you can accomplish anything at Pitt. You just look at the major awards. Heisman? Yeah, it's been done there. The Biletnikoff, Outland Trophy. I think it would be really wrong to grab the spotlight. Our guys know about it and the recruits will know about it, but it's about Aaron and what he did."

- Chryst didn't have one favorite moment from Donald's season, but pointed to the blocked extra point at Syracuse as a play that ended up deciding the game. He also enjoyed when Donald tackled both the quarterback and running back on a zone-read run at Duke.
"I don't think there is one," Chryst said. "If you were to say one picture that encompasses all of them, it'd be like the Duke one. It brings back the memories of the other ones. There's a lot of them."

- Chryst has talked a lot this year about the benefits of Donald being one of the hardest workers on the team, as well as one of its most talented players. In our conversation this week, Chryst specifically brought it up with regards to a player who I think will end up being pretty good on Pitt's defense: Darryl Render.
"Darryl Render sees it every day, and I think Darryl's smart enough to pick up on it," Chryst said. "It's good that way."
Render will likely fill Donald's position at defensive tackle next season, and while he obviously won't replace Donald's production, I think he has shown at the end of this season that he has potential to be a very good defensive lineman.

- As far as the comparisons go, Chryst compared Donald to J.J. Watt (who Chryst coached at Wisconsin) and Donald's high school defensive line coach Demond Gibson compared him to former NFL defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.

- When I talked to former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, he compared Donald to former Pitt running back Dion Lewis, in terms of recruiting profile. Neither guy had the ideal physical characteristics for the position, but in both cases, the production outweighed the measurables. Wannstedt also said Donald's work ethic was immediately evident.
"He was one that always enjoyed the weight room, he always enjoyed working out," Wannstedt said. "Back then, with our strength coach Buddy Morris, if you didn't you didn't last long. He was always one of Buddy's favorites in terms of work ethic and the kind of attitude he had."

- Wannstedt was confident Donald would find a niche in the NFL. In fact, Wannstedt pointed to Buccaneers defensive tackle Akeem Spence (who is just a hair taller than Donald and a little bit heavier) as an example that a guy that size can make it. The Bucs drafted Spence in the fourth round last year, and he developed into a starter for them along the defensive line.

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Toronto's Smith familiar with Penguins' young defensemen - 12-16-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

When the Penguins take the ice tonight, they'll likely have two defensemen in the lineup who have never played a game of consequence at Consol Energy Center.

Injuries and a suspension have forced the team to recall Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton within the past week. Dumoulin made his NHL debut Saturday in Detroit while Samulesson is expected to appear in his first career NHL game tonight.

It's doubtful there be many sets of eyeballs present at Consol Energy Center tonight which have seen Dumoulin, Samuelsson or any of the Penguins' other young defensemen quite as much as Maple Leafs forward Trevor Smith.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins' leading scorer last season with 54 points, Smith, who appeared in one NHL game with the Penguins last season, got a first-hand view of Dumoulin, Samuelsson, Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres last season at the AHL level. He even got a glimpse of Olli Maatta who made his professional debut by appearing in a handful of postseason games last spring.

After today's morning skate, Smith offered a brief scouting report on the Penguins rather green blue line.

You probably didn't expect to see so many of your teammates in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in one game at the NHL level.

"I didn’t. I saw the wire. I saw the guys getting called up. I went out and said hello to a couple of the guys. It’s nice to them get an opportunity."

What's the scouting report on Samuelsson?

"I’d say he’s a good puck-moving, skilled defenseman. He’s quick in the [defensive] zone and he’s good at jumping in the play. He’s got a well-rounded game."

Samuelsson skated with Despres during today's morning skate. What were they like as a defensive pairing in the AHL?

"They have good chemistry. They move the puck well together. Obviously, defense first but Despres loves to jump in the play and [Samuelsson] is always following it up looking for offensive opportunities."

What's the scouting report on Brian Dumoulin?

"I don’t know what it is with Pittsburgh. They love those offensively-skilled defensemen. Dumoulin is a very skilled guy. He moves the puck well. He’s deceptive with the puck. He’s a good point on the power play and he’s got a lot of skill. They said he played a lot of minutes [against the Red Wings Saturday]. Hopefully it will continue."

And Robert Bortuzzo?

A big strong guy back there. He’s a defensive guy. A mean guy in front of the net. He’s hard to play against.

The Penguins coach the same system at the AHL and NHL levels? Does that make it easier for young players to transition to the NHL?

Definitely. It makes it so much easier when guys are going up and down. It makes it seamless for the change. It’s obviously a change in venue, a change in atmosphere but it’s pretty straight forward to stick to the same base system. Obviously, there’s going to be a little couple of tweaks here and there depending who you’re playing against and what the opposition is doing. Straight from training camp, when you pound a system into a team, these are the basics, these are the guidelines of what we’ve got to do from top to bottom in the NHL and AHL.

You've bounced between the NHL and AHL for various franchise. How many teams use the the same systems at both levels?

We do that here in Toronto and a few other teams that I’ve been on. It’s very similar with a few tweaks here and there depending on the opposition.

(Photo: Derek Leung/Getty Images)

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