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Game Preview: Maple Leafs vs. Panthers - Auston Matthews faces long time rival Jagr

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Matthews faces his fiercest rival yet

NHL: Florida Panthers at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Maple Leafs vs. Panthers: GAME#17

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Air Canada Centre

Broadcast: TSN4 (blackouts in effect)

Opponent SB Nation Site: Litter Box Cats

Auston Matthews has played in only 16 NHL games so far yet he already has a rival on pretty much every single NHL team, except Ottawa, because no one has rivalries with Ottawa.

Here’s a small selection of his most well known rivals: Connor McDavid, Patrik Laine, Jack Eichel, and Dr. Claw.

However, there is one rival who stands above all the others. One player who Auston Matthews has established the greatest rivalry in all of hockey.

Jaromir Jagr.

Their rivalry dates back to 1990 when Jagr was drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Matthews would not be born for another 7 years, and not drafted for another 26. This basically means Jagr stole 26 years of time where Matthews could be the better player. Hence, there is a rivalry.

Hey, that makes a more logical rivalry than all the other forced rivalries that have been invented these past few months, and also the rivalry he supposedly has with Abraham Lincoln.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander

JvR - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner

Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - Connor Brown

Matt Martin - Ben Smith - Nikita Soshnikov

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Nikita Zaitsev

Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick

Matt Hunwick - Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen

Jhonas Enroth

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Forward Lines

Jonathan Marchessault - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith

Seth Griffith - Denis Malgin - Colton Sceviour

Greg McKegg - Derek MacKenzie - Kyle Rau

Defence Pairings

Keith Yandle - Jason Demers

Mark Pysyk - Aaron Ekblad

Michael Matheson - Alex Petrovic

Goaltenders

James Reimer

Roberto Luongo

Immediately notable on the Panther’s roster is Seth Griffith, whom the Panthers picked up on waivers from the Maple Leafs last Saturday.

Griffith was picked up by the Leafs from waivers at the start of the season. He dressed with them for only three games. His first game with the Panthers was on Tuesday and he earned a primary assist on a goal by Denis Malgin.

He is not the only ex-Leaf on the team, there’s our old friend Mr. McKegg! There’s also James Reimer, and he will be starting in net for the Panthers.

The Panthers are coming into this game with an 8-7-1 record. Their raw numbers show their offence is decent with 2.75 goals per game, and their defence is good with only 28.8 shots against per game. The power play and penalty kill are average. Goaltending is average with Luongo at a 0.916sv% in all situations. Team shooting% is down slightly from last season, when the Panthers were near the top of the league. At this small sample size of the season to-date it is down significantly relative to other teams, but, overall, everything is pretty... average.

At the start of each season the Panthers are the team I expect will break out and move up the standings. For whatever reason, they never do. What is it this season keeping them from bursting up and out from the middle of the pack?

Let’s look at some individual players.

Of the defenders Aaron Ekblad popped off the page right away. After notching an assist every three or four games in the first two seasons of his NHL career, this season he has zero. Not a single one.

There’s only one Leafs defenceman who has yet to pick up an assist this season, Frank Corrado, which is understandable given poor Frankie has played in only one game.

The Panthers brought in Keith Yandle this season for his well known play-making abilities. Naturally, he has the most assists at eight. Even with a change in duties with Yandle in the lineup, I don’t think Ekblad was expected to drop off like this.

Of the forwards, the Panthers are no doubt suffering from major losses due to injuries. Jonathan Huberdeau suffered a nasty ankle injury in a pre-season game and will be out another few months. Huberdeau’s absence created the space for Griffith to be claimed and slotted in to their line up. Last year Huberdeau was an offensive leader, tied for third in points behind Jagr and Jokinen. Marchessault has replaced him on that top line, and done a pretty good job there, but at the high cost of a loss of depth scoring as all lines were bumped up.

Speaking of Jokinen, he missed nine games himself due to an injury. Also out is Panthers' Captain Nicklas Bjugstad. He is now reported well, but did not make the trip here and will instead make his season debut in their next game.

Basically, injuries have taken a big toll on this team. If you get the chance, pay extra attention to Ekblad tonight and perhaps we can see what’s going wrong for him.

Otherwise, there is one other big story for this game: James Reimer making his first ever appearance vs. the Leafs (Luongo played in the previous game this season).

How can anyone possibly cheer against a guy who never stops smiling, and never stops licking his lips at you.

Meanwhile on the Leafs bench the story is, of course, about Auston Matthews “drought”. As we discussed yesterday, nobody is actually worried about Auston Matthews (especially not Morgan Rielly,) yet in the 24/7 sports media world of narratives it will be one of the big stories of the night.

Gird your loins.

Species’ special predictions:

Leafs win 3-2

Leafs goals by Matthews, JvR, and Zaitsev (EN)

Panthers goals by Marchessault, and Griffith