Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers
Time: 7:30 PM EST
Location: BB & T Center, Sunrise, Florida
Broadcast/Streaming: TSN 4
Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats
Every game feels like a playoff game now, as the Leafs try to qualify for the real thing. At the moment, the Leafs are still in the second wild card spot, at 76 points with 15 games remaining. They have a one point lead and a game in hand on both the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning (each has 75 points and 14 games remaining.)
Florida, very recently, was in the thick of this race, with a resurgence in 2017 after a rough start to the season. But they’ve now lost four straight, and come into the night seven points back of the Leafs. A Leafs win would pretty much snuff out the Panthers’ faint remaining hopes.
So we can expect ‘em to be desperate. Appropriate pregame music:
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Connor Brown
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner
Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander
Matt Martin - Brian Boyle - Nikita Soshnikov
Morgan Rielly - Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner - Martin Marincin
Matt Hunwick - Roman Polak
You know these guys by now. Auston Matthews will be looking to snap a recent cold spell, in which he’s gone five games without producing a point. His fellow 1920s detective, Mitch Marner, is riding a point streak over the same period (six points in five GP.) You may also recall that against Florida in November, Mitch Marner did this:
In other Leaf news, Morgan Rielly is newly redeemed after a rough post-injury stretch, having scored the OT winner against Carolina Saturday night. Freddie Andersen will get the start, hoping to continue his recent strong play.
Reilly Smith - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trochek - Colton Sceviour
Thomas Vanek - Nick Bjugstad - Jonathan Marchessault
Jussi Jokinen - Derek MacKenzie -
Keith Yandle -
Mark Pysyk - Alex Petrovic
Michael Matheson - Jason Demers
Up front, the Panthers boast a balanced top nine. Jonathan Huberdeau has been pistol-hot since returning from injury, and Vincent Trochek is having another solid year after breaking out last season. On the other hand, deadline rental Thomas Vanek has been undewhelming (1G, 0A in 5 GP since being traded), and the Cats as a whole are competent rather than spectacular offensively.
On defence, the Panthers have a very worrying question mark: stud defender Aaron Ekblad was hit into the boards on Saturday by Tampa Bay forward Gabriel Dumont and reportedly suffered a concussion. He looks to be missing tonight’s game (as does depth winger Denis Malgin, also concussed Saturday); the Cats have called up defence prospect MacKenzie Weegar, but the Panthers’ line combos are in flux for now.
Still, on the back end, the Panther boast productive offensive d-man Keith Yandle and two quality lower pairings. While it’s not clear how the reorganization minus Ekblad will go, the Panthers have the personnel to step up.
With Roberto Luongo out, our old friend James Reimer has taken over as the Panthers’ starting goalie. He’s been reasonably good, and has set up a fascinating expansion draft choice for the Panthers—Luongo is about to turn 38, is in questionable health, and still has five years left on his contract. At any rate, let’s hope Reimer’s feeling a spirit of Christian charity tonight—he has a chance to badly hurt his old team’s playoff hopes. Toronto had better come ready to play.
Go Leafs Go!