Maple Leafs-Penguins duel matches surging teams
PITTSBURGH -- Two of the NHL's hottest clubs clash Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena.
The Pittsburgh Penguins (33-22-4), who have won three games in row overall and 10 straight at home, host the Toronto Maple Leafs (39-19-5), who have a five-game winning streak.
The Maple Leafs' streak came during a five-game homestand, and now they go on the road and into something of a hornets' nest, but coach Mike Babcock is looking forward to the challenge.
"Any time you have five in a row at home, you're always worried maybe it's too long of a stretch. Our guys did a real good job," Babcock said Friday. "That's all over with. Now we've got an opportunity to go play Pittsburgh. We're excited for that opportunity and plan on being good."
Toronto is 4-1-0 in its past five games against Pittsburgh, including a 4-3 road win on Dec. 9.
The Penguins, struggling to stay above the playoff line at times early in the season, have come on strong. They are 14-4-1 since Jan. 1 and have moved into second place in the Metropolitan Division.
"It's no surprise that they're in the mix again," Maple Leafs leading scorer Auston Matthews said of the Penguins, winners of the past two Stanley Cups. "I think everybody kind of figured that would happen."
That includes the Penguins.
"I think we've found our game," Pittsburgh winger Phil Kessel said. "We're playing good hockey. ... We're scoring some goals again."
Both clubs are proficient offensively. The Maple Leafs are fourth in goals with 193, and the Penguins ranked fifth with 183 before Friday's games.
"They have that one ability -- similar to what we have here -- to score goals," said Toronto defenseman Ron Hainsey, a former Penguins player.
The Maple Leafs' scoring is a bit more balanced, led by Matthews (47 points). Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kessel are among the league leaders with 66 points each.
Crosby has a home point streak (10 games) that matches his team's home winning streak, totaling 20 points. Kessel has 18 points during the home winning streak. Malkin has 25 points in his past 12 home games.
Crosby said there's no internal competition among the Penguins' big three to finish with the team -- or even the league -- lead.
"We're just trying to produce and win games," he said. "If we're contributing, then that's good for our team."
Kessel was more to the point: "I just play. I think that's always how I've been. ... We're all good buddies here. We don't really care about (internal competition). We're here to win."
There's a style similarity between Pittsburgh and Toronto, with both relying on a speed game.
"It's just going to be who does a better job of getting out of their own end," Crosby said. "Both teams try to forecheck well and spend time in the offensive zone. We're going to have to try to get out of our zone quick and play in their end. That will be a big challenge."
Updated February 16, 2018