The Leafs and Sidney Crosby’s Penguins aren’t the same as the last time they met — a night Toronto would like to forget
The last time the Maple Leafs played the Pittsburgh Penguins, it didn’t go so well.
It was arguably the lowest point of their sputtering start to the season: a 7-1 road loss against a Penguins lineup bereft of stars.
Now the Penguins are in Toronto with as healthy a lineup as they’ve had all season, including none other than Sidney Crosby.
“It’s nice to see some familiar faces out there,” coach Mike Sullivan said after the Penguins’ practice at Scotiabank Arena on Friday. “We’ve had a lot of different people on the power play. There’s a lot of moving parts. Now that Sid’s back in the lineup, it gives us a whole different dimension.”
Saturday night’s game will be Crosby’s fifth of the season. He scored his first goal Thursday night in Montreal, rounding into form after a bout with COVID-19 and off-season wrist surgery.
“I’ve never been around an athlete more driven than Sid,” said Sullivan. “When you get to watch him every day, you see the sacrifices that he makes and his commitment to being the best. It’s impressive. It’s inspiring.”
The Leafs had the day off Friday, following a 2-1 home win over the New York Rangers. The Penguins are 3-6-2 since they last faced Toronto, while the Leafs are 10-2-0 since that embarrassing defeat. Of the seven Penguins regulars who missed that game, everyone but star centre Evgeni Malkin (knee surgery) is back.
Crosby often shines against the Leafs, especially on “Hockey Night in Canada.” He has 28 goals and 35 assists in 45 career meetings. That sounds like a lot, but he has gaudy numbers against other teams, too. Toronto is merely his seventh favourite target in terms of points per game (1.4).
“He’s willing to put the work in. He loves the game, he loves to be around it,” said Sullivan. “He’s the first guy on the ice. He’s the last guy off the ice a lot of times. But he just controls everything within his power to set himself up for success — everything from the work he puts in in the weight room and on the ice, to his diet and how he fuels his body and gets in his proper rest.
“There isn’t an ‘i’ I that isn’t dotted or ‘t’ that’s not crossed, and I don’t think it’s by accident that he’s been the best player in the game for a decade-plus.”
It will also be the first game back at Scotiabank Arena for forward Kasperi Kapanen, traded to the Penguins in 2020. He took a moment to remember his time as a Leaf.
“A lot of good, a lot of bad as well,” said Kapanen. “Wish we could have had some deeper runs into the playoffs. I was in the playoffs three times with the Leafs, and we didn’t get past round one. It sucks. But we had some good teams, and good moments.”