Penguins

Penguins brace for strong response from Leafs

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Auston Matthews. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

TORONTO -- The Penguins will be trying to get their ninth victory in the past 12 games when they face Toronto tonight at 7:08 at Scotiabank Arena.

The Maple Leafs might be trying to save their season.

Oh, they're not in danger of being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention anytime soon, but they have lost three of their past four games and are two points out of the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference.

What's particularly troubling for them is that they've absorbed two disheartening defeats in a row, including a fairly lifeless performance during a 5-2 loss to the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday.

"We have a chance to respond tonight," Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said today, adding later that "we need signs of life at this time."

For what it's worth, the Penguins expect to see plenty of those this evening.

"It's obviously that time of year," Justin Schultz said after the Penguins held a team meeting today. "Every point matters, and they're in a fight right now. We expect their best, and we're going to try to be better, too."

While Toronto has shown some serious defensive deficiencies this season -- it is allowing 3.28 goals per game, fifth-highest average in the NHL -- it also has some exceptional offensive talents on its payroll in guys such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

"They have so many skilled guys," Dominik Simon said. "They have great offensive forwards. They are a team with more skill and offensive guys than other teams. Above-average, for sure."

Desperate, too.

Evgeni Malkin, who sat out the game Tuesday because of illness, was one of a handful of players to go on the ice this morning and seems likely to be in the lineup tonight. "He's skating this morning," Mike Sullivan said. "He feels a lot better, so we're certainly encouraged that he'll be able to play."

Zach Trotman, recalled from the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Tuesday because several defensemen were "nicked up," as Sullivan described it, has joined the team, but Sullivan declined to say whether he expects to have to use him this evening.

Matt Murray, who has a career record of 3-2-1 against Toronto, will be in goal tonight. Frederik Andersen is scheduled to get the start for the Maple Leafs.

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