TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: 30-31-8 (68 PTS.) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 32-23-13 (77 PTS.)
OPPOSITION SITE: EDITOR IN LEAF
GAME DAY SONG: All I Ever Wanted: The Airborne Toxic Event
After a solid performance in goal by goaltender Jose Theodore, the Florida Panthers will host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second game of an all important four game homestand tonight. Theo was exceptionally sharp making 34 saves for his third shutout of the season Sunday, picking up his 19th victory to help keep the Panthers in first place another day. The defence was better, the physicality has been better, and the effort has been better. The Panthers will attempt to bring the same energy and work ethic to the rink tonight as they take on a Toronto Maple Leafs team that appears to be fading away from a spot in the playoffs. In their last 10 games the Leafs are 1-7-2 and trail the eighth place Washington Capitals by eight points. The Leafs will also be trying to avoid something that has only happened to them once in their 85 years of existence; being shutout for the third consecutive game. The last time? December 14-20, 1926!
The Panthers need to be careful of a team like the Leafs who are still thinking that they can make the playoffs with a late run coupled with a new attitude by recently hired head coach Randy Carlyle. While it may be too little too late for the Leafs, the Panthers will need to make sure they take control of this game from the get go. The Panthers have owned the Leafs this season winning all three games, and will be going for their fifth consecutive win against Toronto. What’s also a point of interest is that these two teams each have the longest playoff droughts, and Florida is on the verge of ending theirs. Coach Kevin Dineen is looking for more:
“We’re disappointed we don’t have a little more separation from where we feel we should be right now,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “We felt in the last couple of months that we have given up points, but this was our goal, to be relevant going into the end of March and into April.”
As good as Theodore has been for most of the season, the Panthers offence remains suspect and will need to do better than score two goals per game. Matter of fact they’ve only scored three goals in their past three games, which includes the 5-0 shutout to the Philadelphia Flyers last Thursday night. The power play also needs improvement as they are 1 for 17 in the past six games. Playoffs are often decided by special teams, and that is one aspect of the Panthers game that has to get better.
The Leafs come in on their heels and will be playing some desperate hockey, which can be a dangerous team to face when you’re trying to stay in the playoff race yourself. Toronto has given up 212 goals which is the second most in the conference behind Tampa. Whether it was the defensive system that Ron Wilson had employed, or the inconsistency of goaltenders James Reimer and Jonas Gustavson is debatable. Randy Carlyle a former defenceman himself looks to correct this, but may not have the pieces currently to do so.
Phil Kessel leads the team in points with 71, which include 34 goals, but will be without winger Joffrey Lupul who is out indefinitely with a separated shoulder. Mikhail Grabovski who just recently signed a long term deal, is the third leading point producer on the team with 47. He has 21 goals and five of them have come on the power play.
The Leafs are a fast team, and have the ability to create offence, however their forwards aren’t known for backchecking, and their defensive unit isn’t all that impressive. Featuring Dion Phanuef (the player Calgary should have kept) is their cornerstone defender. Logging over 25 minutes of ice time Dion needs help to be more effective. John-Michael Liles came on board for his offensive ways, and as a power play specialist, hasn’t quite worked out that way. With 24 points on the season, he has three power play goals. I feel the Leafs were expecting more.
Randy Carlyle gives his view on the Leafs struggles:
“I believe that the teams that play better defense, usually the offense comes around,” said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, who is 1-3-1 since replacing the fired Ron Wilson. “We are starving for offense right now; we need a bounce to go our way. It’s not like we are not creating quality scoring chances; we are creating them.”
The Panthers have outscored Toronto 15-4 during a four game skid here at the Bank Atlantic Center. The Panthers look to continue that trend as they add to their Southeast division leading total.
* The Panthers have lost 304 man games to injury.
* Florida has a six game point streak against Toronto going 5-0-1.
* The Panthers are 12-3-2 against Canadian teams this season. They are 7-1-1 at home against them as well.
* Florida has no been in first place 102 days!
* Toronto is the second youngest team in the NHL behind Colorado, with 26.7 being the average age.
* Randy Carlyle is the 16th ex-Leaf player to coach the team.
* John-Michael Liles needs one point for 300 in the NHL.
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