The Toronto Maple Leafs return to the ice on Saturday night for their fifth game in the last eight days, as they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. As always, it’s a star-studded affair, with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares going up against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson, and Kris Letang. Even still, the big focus tonight will be on the architect in the visiting press box, as tonight marks first-year Penguins President and GM Kyle Dubas’ return to the rink he called home for the previous five seasons.
Bet on Maple Leafs vs. Penguins
The Maple Leafs are home favourites in this game, coming in at -130, though the gap in the lines has been narrowing over the past few hours.
Maple Leafs vs. Penguins odds
|Maple Leafs Moneyline Odds
|Penguins Moneyline Odds
|Puck Line odds
|Maple Leafs -1.5 (+175), Penguins +1.5 (-210)
|Total Goals line
|6.5 goals (over -140, under +120)
|Dec. 16, 7:00 p.m. ET
|Broadcast: Sportsnet, CBC
(How to watch the NHL in Canada?)
About the Maple Leafs (15-6-6 SU, 6-19 ATS, 15-11-1 o/u)
The Maple Leafs had their worst and best games of the season in the same night on Thursday, laying an absolute egg in the first 40 minutes against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Patrik Laine opened the scoring with his sixth of the year early in the first period, and Kent Johnson soon followed. Justin Danforth, Yegor Chinakhov, and Johnny Gaudreau all added insult to injury in the second period, widening Columbus’ lead to 5-0. Sure, there were plenty of available excuses – the Leafs were sick, were tired, and likely used a lot of energy up beating the Rangers in an unexpected goal explosion on Tuesday, and there would be less concern if the results were reversed – but you still didn’t want to see the team play like this on any given night.
Less than a minute into the third period, William Nylander scored to put the Leafs on the board. Most of us laughed and gave a sarcastic “cue the comeback” to whoever was around them. But then Mitch Marner went between the legs to make it 5-2 a few minutes later. Then the Leafs kept pressing, and then with six minutes remaining, Jake McCabe made it 5-3. All of a sudden, the team had our attention. With 1:15 to go, Auston Matthews made it 5-4, and thirty seconds later, he tied the game, bringing Toronto all the way back.
An incredible result, done all in one period for just the third time in NHL history. Unfortunately, they couldn’t turn it into a win, ultimately giving up a second to Johnson in overtime, but they showed that they weren’t willing to roll over easily and snagged a point out of their push. Toronto has now gone eight games without a regulation loss and only has one of those in their last fourteen games. Their lone pointless game in that stretch? A 3-2 loss to… the Pittsburgh Penguins.
About the Penguins (13-12-3 SU, 12-16 ATS, 9-17 o/u)
The Penguins’ up-and-down season continues, with a lack of depth production really starting to rear its head. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson, and Jake Guentzel have been great, as was Bryan Rust prior to his injury, and Kris Letang and Reilly Smith have been good. But after that, it’s difficult to find much help. How difficult? Well, the players I listed there are the only ones with more than three goals this year, and even Letang doesn’t count in that list.
Yep. It’s been that bad. The Penguins have a lot more work to do in terms of finding depth, an issue both inherited and not helped enough during the offseason. On the plus side, their goalies have been much better than expected, with both Tristan Jarry and Alex Nedjelkovic putting up some of the best results of their careers (and even contributing to the goals themselves – Jarry in the NHL, Nedjejkovic in the AHL – with one a piece, a rare feat to see happen twice in the same organization in the span of a couple weeks).
Pittsburgh comes into this game with momentum after beating the Coyotes and Canadiens over the course of the week, including a twelve-round shootout win in the latter game.
The last game between these two teams was just a few weeks ago, on November 25th. Toronto opened the scoring in this one through Tyler Bertuzzi’s stick just four minutes in, but only held the lead for 28 seconds before the Penguins equalized. Matthew Knies restored the lead not long after, but in the second period, Noel Accari and Erik Karlsson got the goals Pittsburgh needed to tie and win the game. A quiet third period sent the hosts back to their dressing room as the happier squad.
|Toronto Maple Leafs
Matthew Knies – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
Tyler Bertuzzi – John Tavares – Mitch Marner
Nicholas Robertson – Max Domi – Calle Jarnkrok
Bobby McMann – David Kampf – Noah Gregor
Morgan Rielly – Timothy Liljegren
William Lagesson – Jake McCabe
Simon Benoit – Conor Timmins
Starting In Goal
2-0-0 3.46 GAA, 0.902 SV%
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Rickard Rakell
Reilly Smith – Evgeni Malkin – Valtteri Puustinen
Radim Zohorna – Lars Eller – Drew O’Connor
Jansen Harkins – Jonathan Gruden – Jeff Carter
Ryan Graves – Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson – Erik Karlsson
Pierre-Olivier Joseph – John Ludvig
Starting In Goal
9-10-2, 2.46 GAA, 0.917 SV%
Matthew Knies appears to be back in the Toronto lineup tonight after missing the last two games with an illness. Timothy Liljegren makes his return as well, a huge addition to Toronto’s blue line after missing a month and a half with a high ankle sprain. TJ Brodie was absent from morning skate today with an illness and is not listed in our projected lineup as such, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if he drew in for one of Lagesson, Benoit, or Timmins – we’ll keep an eye on that.
Martin Jones draws in for the Leafs in goal, which is potentially alarming in the long view, but looking at it from the narrative arc of “third-stringer in Toronto that actually cleared waivers”, him turning into Hasek against the last GM’s team feels written in stone.
The Penguins lineup, a healthy mix of Hall of Famers and “guys”, appears to be getting a bump tonight with the return of Rickard Rakell. Rakell had a tough start to his season and suffered an upper-body injury in November, and he is hoping for this to be a fresh start to his year.
Total Goals under 6.5
The Maple Leafs added Ryan Reaves to the IR crew this weekend. Reaves suffered a lower-body injury early in Thursday’s game. It’s hard to tell what exactly happened, as his legs seemed to lock up heading into the boards on a relatively routine play – it’s possible he caught a bad edge or a rut in the ice. Toronto has called up Pontus Holmberg to take his place.
Pittsburgh has a decently long list of injuries at the moment. Chad Ruhwedel is week-to-week with a lower-body injury suffered in November, brief former Leaf Noel Acciari was placed on retroactive IR back on December 8th with a lower-body injury, Matt Nieto is out with an undisclosed injury, and in perhaps the biggest blow to the lineup, Bryan Rust is week-to-week with an upper-body injury.
- The Maple Leafs are 4-6 in their last ten games against the Penguins, dating back to November 2019. They have an identical record on the puck line and on the goals over as well, implying lower-scoring games where the Penguins eke out the edge or keep it close.
- Toronto are 5-5 in their last ten games, and 3-7 on the puck line. Games are starting to become higher scoring of late, with seven of their last ten games hitting the over on total goals, along with four of their last five games following that same pattern.
- Pittsburgh’s results are similar – 4-6 straight up in their last ten games, 3-7 against the puck line – but the process is much different as only two of their games have met the total goals over. Seven landed under the line and one was a push.
Player prop trends
- Sidney Crosby has been turning back the clock this season, putting up 17 goals and 31 points in 28 games. He’s currently on pace for his best goal-scoring season since his Rocket Richard-winning year in 2010. He’s maintained that lately, with five goals in his last ten games and three in his last five, so keep an eye on him.
- Jake Guentzel is also someone to watch on Pittsburgh if you’re looking for your goal fix. The 29-year-old winger had a slow start to his campaign but has seven goals in his last ten games and four in his last five.
- Now that he’s shaken off his nine-game slump, Auston Matthews is thermonuclear. The superstar centre has nine goals in his last six games, with three assists on top. Four of those games have featured two-goal showings.
Wagers to consider
- I think the total goals under (with a line of 6.5 at +120) is one worth considering tonight. I believe in Narrative Magic for Jones, and he’s historically been pretty great against Pittsburgh to boot. The Penguins have struggled to put up high-scoring affairs of late, and Toronto’s schedule and lingering flu bug will slow down their explosiveness at some point (it nearly did on Thursday!). I can see this being a tightly-contested affair and it should be treated as such.
- I’m not super in love with the boosted parlay section tonight. Usually, there’s one that really catches my eye, but the ones involving in-game props aren’t doing it for me today. If you do want one, the triple-winner prop that takes New Jersey over Columbus, Toronto over Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles over Seattle at +367 (up from +325) is the most interesting.
- Evgeni Malkin is in a big-time goal drought, with none in his last seven and just three in his last eighteen. He’s usually better than great against the Leafs, so you can talk me into thinking about him getting a goal tonight at +150.