TORONTO — You try to pretend it’s the same, only it’s not.
Saturday night in Canada has a special meaning, and there’s no denying it.
“Anytime you’re playing in Toronto on a Saturday night, it’s always exciting,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said.
Television, tradition and an obsession over Penguins captain Sidney Crosby aside, the on-ice stuff figures to make this one exciting as well.
The Maple Leafs will likely welcome back defenseman Cody Franson, while forwards Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov will try to agitate the daylights out of Crosby.
Crosby produces plenty against the Maple Leafs and at Air Canada Centre (17 points in 13 career visits), while the series between these two has featured nearly as many special teams goals (9) as even strength (10).
“I don’t want to invite a chance game,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “That’s not what coaches really want. You want your team to go out and play a complete game in all three zones.”
Carlyle, a former Penguins defenseman, was asked whether any additional preparation went into preparing for players like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“When you have elite-level players, you have to at least remind your individuals of their Ps and Qs as far as being on the defensive side of things,” Carlyle said. “If you turn the puck over and give them the opportunity to transition and allow them to play on the power play, they’re going to hurt. That’s their makeup. They’re great players. They take advantage of the situations the opposition gives them. Sometimes they do things that other people wish they could do.”
The Penguins will look to improve their penalty killing unit, which gave up three power play goals to the Ducks on Thursday.
The Maple Leafs ranked sixth on the power play last season at 19.8 percent, with James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel totaling nine and eight man-advantage goals, respectively.
“We’re playing against a top power play unit,” Johnston said. “We’ve had some different people killing together. We’ve got to make some adjustments for sure on what we’re doing — exposing the slot area — but we’ll tidy that up.”
News out of the skate: In line rushes, Pascal Dupuis switched wings with Malkin, Dupuis now on the right of center Brandon Sutter and Malkin on the left. Not sure I’d read too much into that, though. … Why, you ask? Because Johnston had defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin, Kris Letang and Olli Maatta and Simon Depres and Scott Harrington paired together, then said they’d stick with the same defense from Thursday. Makes sense as Ehrhoff and Letang have been great, same for Martin and Maatta and Despres and Harrington are both left-handed shots. … Franson (knee) was activated off injured reserve Saturday morning, and it appears the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder make his season debut. … Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (undisclosed) worked out on his own after the morning skate at Air Canada Centre.
TV/radio: NHL Network/CBC/Root Sports/105.9 FM
About the Maple Leafs: Toronto is coming off a 4-3 loss to Montreal on Wednesday. Defenseman Morgan Rielly scored at 17:41 to tie it, then Tomas Plekanec’s shot deflected off rookie defenseman Stuart Percy’s skate at 19:17. … Leafs were 1 for 3 on the power play and 2 for 2 on the penalty kill. … Kadri and Tyler Bozak also scored. … Bozak (19-30–49) and van Riemsdyk (30-31—61) are coming off career-best seasons. … Kessel is the only NHL player to have finished among the top 10 scorers in each of the past three seasons. … Leafs acquired LW David Booth in the offseason, but he’ll be out 4-5 more weeks with a right foot injury.
The series: Penguins went 1-1-1 against the Leafs last year, including 1-0-0 in Toronto. Pittsburgh has won two straight. … JVR led all scores with five points and two goals in 2013-14. … Nine of the 19 goals scored last season were on special teams. … Crosby has 20 goals and 23 assists in 28 previous meetings, including 17 points in 13 games at Air Canada Centre.
Next up: Penguins vs. Stars, Thursday, 7 p.m.