I usually am kind of concerned about the first game after a break like this. While the players who get to attend the All-Star game share in playful shenanigans, the one’s left behind lick their wounds, spend time with family, and sit around and relax. Could be a problem for many teams tonight unless you had yourself a good old fashioned hard skate on Monday.
Speaking of problems, Toronto’s Phil Kessel has spent the weekend as the butt end of countless jokes as he was the “Last Man Standing” in the All-Star Fantasy Draft. Someone had to be that guy, but since it was Kessel, and since he plays for Toronto, the hype was most likely raised up a notch. Well he was the last of 36, not the last of 700, so not such a big deal. More after the jump.
Toronto seems to just have a target on their back and since they started out 4-0-0 this season, they just haven’t been able to keep up. General manager Brian Burke’s promise of a team that would be tough to play against with his pugnacity and testosterone speech has come up short. The Leafs have struggled, and the faithful are getting antsy. Firing Ron Wilson is not an option according to this story in TSN. These two teams are very similar in nature and the second half of this season is most likely not going to change too much.
The Leafs have not been to the playoffs in seven years, while the Florida Panthers have no seen a playoff game for 10. The Panthers are eight points out of a spot, while the Leafs are 14 points out. Toronto’s chances of making it are very slim, and the balance of the season gives those players a chance to audition for next year at this point. An opportunity to play the spoiler. Always a dangerous type of team to face.
Toronto is on a three game losing streak and has lost six of seven. The Panthers have dropped five of six and lost their last game before the break. They haven’t seen the Bank Atlantic Center since January 21 st, and won’t be there again till February 8th. The road record for Florida stands at 11-14-0.
Keep your eyes on Mikhail Grabovski who leads the Leafs with 20 goals so far this season. Clarke MacArthur leads them with 40 points and has admitted recently that he just loves playing in Toronto. of course look over your shoulder as you never know when Dion Phaneuf will lay the boom on you. The big defenceman has had an up and down year, but has the ability to change the pace of the game with a bone crushing hit, or a slapshot from the point. His play has picked up as of late and he has 3 points in his last four games. Goaltending has been a revolving door for the Leafs as both J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavson have struggled this season.
The Panthers have moved struggling Michael Frolik to the fourth line to start out tonight. I don’t know how a player gets back in the thick of it that way, but with the shortage of forwards and the recent broken ankle of Shawn Matthias, being a healthy scratch isn’t an option. Frolik has no points in his last 11 games, and hasn’t scored a goal since December 17th. Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Evgeny Dadonov are all scoreless recently. The playoff lives of the Panthers will rely heavily on that trio. If they can’t find there way to some goals, and often, you can forget staying in this playoff race.
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