Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Maple Leafs. Road Warriors.


November 8, 2011; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Florida Panthers goaltender Jose Theodore (60) and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (7) and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul (19) battle for a loose puck during the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Florida defeated Toronto 5-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

FLORIDA PANTHERS: 29-20-12 (70 PTS.) vs. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: 29-26-7 (65 PTS.)




Winning games after trailing has become a trademark of sorts for the Florida Panthers, as they have shown in their two road wins over Carolina and Montreal this weekend.  It’s also been something that they’ve been doing most of the season, and it’s apparently spreading as the Panthers have the Edmonton Oilers to thank for a come from behind win over the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night.  The Oiler victory keeps the Panthers in sole possesion of first place in the Southeast division by two points over Winnipeg (off tonight) and three points over Washington who is hosting the Islanders.

A win tonight would be the fourth consecutive road win for the Panthers who visit a struggling Toronto team that will be looking to avoid it’s fifth loss in a row.  The recent road record, combined with the two come from behind victories should bode well in the confidence department for the Panthers, with one of the keys being the hope that Stephen Weiss has finally broken out of his scoring slump.  Prior to Carolina he had played 31 games and had only scored twice.  In the Carolina game he scored the shootout winner and in the game against the Canadiens, Weiss had two goals and one assist. Having been moved down to the second line with Mikael Samuelsson and Sean Bergenheim may have been just the kick start that Weiss needed, but nonetheless, he’ll need to get back to his consistent ways from earlier in the season.

Both Jason Garrison and Ed Jovanovski have returned to the lineup on defence, which gives the team confidence not only skating five on five, but on special teams as well, where Garrison’s booming slapshot has been missing.  With the trade deadline having passed and Dale Tallon acquiring forwards Wojtek Wolski and Jerred Smithson, the Panthers can now just concentrate on winning games instead of wondering if they’ll be here for the remainder of the season.

Kris Versteeg who missed most of the second period and all of the third on Tuesday is not in the trip for tonight’s game.  Tomas Kopecky will likely lineup between Tomas Flesichmann and Wojtek Wolski, with Weiss between Samuelsson and Bergenheim. John Madden was on the ice for the morning skate and had Krys Barch and Jerred Smithson as his wingers. Jose Theodore should get the start in goal tonight, and he’s been nothing short of brilliant in his past four games.  His GAA is 1.69, and his save percentage is .943.

The Leafs who are sporting a 2-7-1 record in their last 10 games sit currently in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, and are going to play nine of their next 12 on the road after tonight’s game.  Besides losing four in a row, they’ve also lost eight of their last nine games, and sit three points behind the eighth place Winnipeg Jets.  Toronto hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004 and everyone in the hockey universe (otherwise known as Toronto) is getting restless.  Brian Burke (who’s tie remains undone) attempted to make some deals yesterday, but like many GM’s wasn’t going to give the store away, and ended up with two minor transactions.  Acquiring defenceman Mark Fraser from Anaeheim and forward Carter Ashton from Tampa Bay.  Burke explains his moves:

“We are sticking with the plan,” general manager Brian Burke said Monday. “In my mind there is nothing we could have done today that made us better now. It was all things that will make us better moving down the road. We’ve got to see if this group is good enough to get in and keep the assets we have.”

During their 1-7-1 skid the Leafs have given up 35 goals with neither James Reimer or Jonas Gustavsson playing well at all.  Both goaltenders have drawn the ire of coach Ron Wilson who has been very vocal about their performance publicly.

Speaking on behalf of the team was defenceman John-Michael Liles: 

“It’s not Maple Leaf hockey,” defenseman John-Michael Liles said. “We have to take it upon ourselves in this room. We’ve got the team to do it here, we’ve done it for a long time this season. It’s a matter of getting back to how we’re successful.”

The last time the Panthers played at the ACC they were victorious by a score of 5-1.  In the last dozen trips to Toronto the Panthers have lost only three times in regulation.

Nerdy Notes/Numbers:

* Toronto leads the series 29-20-7-2.

* Ron Wilson will coach his 1400th game tonight tying former Leafs coach Pat Quinn for fourth on the all time list.  Wilson has 648 wins trailing Mike Keenan who has 672 in 1,386 games coached.

* In his first three seasons with the Leafs Phil Kessel has three consecutive 30 goal campaigns.  The last Leaf to accomplish this feat in their first three years was Ed Olczyk from 1987-88 to 1989-1990.

* The Leafs are the second youngest team in the NHL averaging 26.9 years of age.

* The Panthers have lost 274 man games to injury.

* The Panthers are 10-2-2 in games against Canadian teams this season.

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Topics: Brian Burke, Florida Panthers, Jose Theodore, Road Warriors, Ron Wilson, Tononto Maple Leafs

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