One of two superstars is expected to be in the lineup Saturday when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The game normally would be a matchup of marquee offensive talents, Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. Both had wrist surgery late in the offseason, but Matthews’ was a few weeks before Crosby’s.
Matthews, the NHL’s top goal-scorer last season with 41, played in his second game Friday, a 5-3 Maple Leafs home loss to the San Jose Sharks.
Crosby practiced with his teammates Friday, but he has been ruled out for Saturday. He said he needs to make sure his wrist is sound with pressure and contact such as on faceoffs and puck battles before he can make his season debut.
The Maple Leafs could use the kind offense Matthews can provide, including from him. He will be looking for his first point Saturday in his third game.
“Timing, rhythm — it’s still a work in progress,” Matthews said.
He called his game Friday “not really my best performance” and indicated the whole team will be looking to bounce back Saturday in Pittsburgh: “We’d like to learn from this one.”
The Maple Leafs averaged two goals a game through their first four games before netting three Friday.
“Stay with it. Be confident in the chances that you’ve generated,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe offered about what his players need to do. “If you continue to generate them, your skill set will allow you to convert on those.”
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has closed ranks and played a strong, disciplined, schematic game without Crosby, fellow star center Evgeni Malkin (knee surgery) and others. The Penguins have no regulation losses and six of a possible eight points through four games.
Also out now are top-line right winger Bryan Rust (lower-body injury) and Jeff Carter (tested positive for COVID-19).
Pittsburgh dodged a bad situation when No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry was cleared Friday and practiced after he had a false-positive COVID-19 test a day earlier.
Carter had been skating in Crosby’s spot, centering the top line between Jake Guentzel and Rust. On Saturday, Kasperi Kapanen is expected to man the right side on that line in Rust’s spot, and the top center role will fall to versatile but unheralded Evan Rodrigues, who is normally a bottom-six forward.
“E-Rod’s a good player,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s got good offensive instincts. He’s a very capable guy. You know, we’re going to need him now.”
Rodrigues, 28, promised he won’t be pressing while in that spot.
“That’s the mistake that a lot of young guys make — they get bumped up the lineup and they try to either create more offense or play a different game,” Rodrigues said. “The reason you have success and get to where you are is by playing your game.”
Crosby, while he rehabs and waits in the wings, has been impressed with the Penguins’ play despite the absent key parts.
“Everyone is playing the same way,” he said. “Every line that goes out there over the boards is playing hard. We’re playing fast, and we’re not giving teams a lot of time and space.”
–Field Level Media