Penguins Notebook: Maple Leafs, their fans on scary roller-coaster ride

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TORONTO -- Toronto was one point out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race before facing the Penguins at the Air Canada Centre last night and might not know where it will finish until the regular season ends in a week.

Because six teams are fighting for three spots in the postseason field, the standings change almost every night, and the result of one team's game has an impact on several other clubs.

But while it's impossible to predict how the situation will evolve in a given evening, let alone how it ultimately will play, Maple Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft is certain of one thing: The public prognosis for his team will hinge on the outcome of every game it plays.

"It has been kind of comical at times over the last few [weeks]," he said yesterday.

"We get written off when we lose a game and, when we win, the parade route starts to get planned again."

Letang's arrival in limbo

That defenseman Kristopher Letang is part of the Penguins' long-term future is a given. Whether he'll be part of their playoff run isn't so clear.

Mostly because the Penguins have no idea when he will be available.

Letang's club in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Val d'Or, is one of the top clubs in junior hockey, and might well go on a long run.

If so, it figures to be due at least in part to Letang, who was honored as the Canadian Hockey League's player of the week after getting four goals and four assists in his first two playoff games.

That came in the wake of a regular season during which he put up 14 goals and 38 assists in 40 games and captained Canada's gold-medal winning entry at the world junior championships.

Predictably, the Penguins will clear a roster spot for him if he becomes available this spring, although they're not ready to say whether it will be in the NHL or with their top minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre.

"We don't know yet," general manager Ray Shero said. "We'll kind of see where we are here. At the least, he's going to go to Wilkes-Barre. Once he goes to Wilkes-Barre, we can always recall him.

"He's going to one or the other. Probably Wilkes-Barre, I would think, depending on where we are here."

Power-play fallacies

The Penguins' power play was 9 for 23 in its first three games against Toronto this season, so limiting the damage it did was a priority for the Maple Leafs last night.

"You want to eliminate their power-play chances, because they're pretty good at it," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said.

"They can throw some pretty good weapons on the ice."

A reporter for TSN, Canada's version of ESPN, floated the idea that the Penguins began the evening with a league-high 435 chances with the extra man at least in part because the league office is eager to see the franchise succeed, a stance that gets reflected in the way referees call their games.

No one associated with the Leafs went so far as to agree overtly with that premise, but the concept seemed to get their tacit endorsement.

Raycroft volunteered that the Penguins "might get a call once in a while," and coach Paul Maurice didn't go out of his way to downplay that idea.

"There are some teams that you know, going in, chances are it's going to be a special-teams game," he said.

"In our experience this year, it's been like that with Pittsburgh."

The ability of the Penguins' high-end forwards to draw penalties by virtue of their speed and skill went unmentioned.

So did the fact that, before the game, the Penguins had been short-handed 397 times.

That means they had, on average, received about one-half power play per game more than their opponents.

Slap shots

Defenseman Alain Nasreddine, a healthy scratch for the Penguins' previous three games, returned to the lineup last night, bumping Rob Scuderi into street clothes. Nasreddine started the evening with one goal, four assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-14 in 42 games. ... Left winger Gary Roberts, who missed the Penguins' 4-2 victory in Boston Thursday night because of a bruised right knee, was back in uniform, too. ... In addition to Scuderi, the Penguins scratched forwards Nils Ekman, Ronald Petrovicky and Chris Thorburn and defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski.

Dave Molinari can be reached at .


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