If ever a game seemed set up as a "mail-in" classic, this might be the one.
The Toronto Maple Leafs certainly have a number of handy excuses available for not beating the Pittsburgh Penguins when they travel into southern Pennsylvania on Sunday night.
They've just come off a tough overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens at home on Saturday night, despite outplaying the Habs for all but the first five minutes (when they fell down 2-0).
And this is a back-to-back, right after the Christmas two-day break, so the Leafs haven't practised since last Tuesday.
The Penguins (26-11-1), who have won six of their last seven games, have been off for four days, and got in some practice time at home.
And Pittsburgh scored five times in the second period on their way to blasting the Ottawa Senators 8-2 last Wednesday, doing well in the fight for first overall in the NHL.
Kessel cools off
Oh, the Leafs still can't keep from giving up the opening goal of each game, and they're facing a Pens team that is 15-2 when it scores first.
And their offensive key, Phil Kessel, has been held without a point now in a season-high five consecutive contests as Toronto has gone 1-3-1 during that stretch to drop to 13-17-9.
So this one seems to be over before it starts at 7 p.m. ET.
Still, Toronto has played well in the second half of the seemingly endless back-to-backs everyone is facing ahead of the Olympics. They've gone 3-3-1, including big wins over Detroit, Montreal and Boston.
And backup goaltender Vesa Toskala, who could well get the start as the Leafs may not want Jonas Gustavsson and his twice-operated-on heart to play back-to-back, is 6-2 against Pittsburgh lifetime.
Pittsburgh, for reasons that have everyone scratching their heads, is a terrible 15 per cent on the power play, despite all their tremendous fire power led by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
However, in that wipeout of Ottawa, the power play came up with three, so the rust may coming off at just the wrong time for the Leafs, who happen to have the worst penalty kill in the NHL.
Toronto's power play, by the way, has gone one-for-19 over the last seven games.
The club also can't afford to give away many more points. Saturday's overtime loss dropped their record to 1-9 when the game goes to extras, and that's nine points that will bite them hard by the end of the season if the Leafs can't find places to come up with some surprise points.
Like, say, Sunday night in Pittsburgh.With files from The Associated Press