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Preview: Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers

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Didn’t we just have the Panthers over? I guess it’s nice they asked us back, considering.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers: Game #66

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Location: It’s not Miami, it’s that other place, Kanata or something, no that’s Ottawa ... weird that no one goes to the games in either place.

Broadcast/Streaming: TSN4, Fox Sports - Florida

Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats

So the Leafs played last night. They looked — inconsistent is the polite word — flaky is likely closer to the truth. And yet they got a point out of it.

Against Florida, the points should come easier, but Roberto Luongo is not exactly easy to score on. The Leafs run a very serious risk of having a big emotional letdown in the next few weeks with a lot of down time and the trade deadline over. To keep focus, I expect they’ll decide they can make a race out of the Atlantic, and kill off the games in hand Boston has and take second place.

Who am I to say they can’t?

In fact, I’ll join in. They totally can, they can put the pedal down and treat this run up to the playoffs like a time they need to play their most serious hockey. They can start by playing a serious game tonight against a team they beat a week ago 1-0 on a James van Riemsdyk goal.

That game was Luongo’s first back, and he let in one goal while Andersen had the shutout.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - William Nylander - Kasperi Kapanen
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown
Leo Komarov - Tomas Plekanec - Josh Leivo

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Roman Polak/Connor Carrick

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen
Curtis McElhinney - assumed starter

Florida Panthers

Forward Lines

Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Nick Bjugstad
Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Radim Vrbata
Jamie McGinn - Jared McCann - Maxim Mamin
Michael Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour

Defence Pairings

Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Micheal Matheson - Mark Pysyk
MacKenzie Weegar - Alex Petrovic

Goaltenders

Roberto Luongo - assumed starter
James Reimer


Did you know the Panthers are fourth in the Atlantic? They are, and they consider themselves to be in a playoff race. This cuts both ways. If I’m going to give credence to the idea that the Leafs are in a race for second place, then the Panthers can grab a wild card spot.

Florida is currently seven points behind Columbus with two other teams in the way, but they have a lot of games in hand on every one of those teams. So, sure, they can make a run.

They’ll be trying to run through Toronto, and you know, ignoring all the har har in hockey fandom about their bad trades, dysfunctional management, and the total lack of paying customers some nights (they’ve grown their crowds substantially in the last couple of years), I like this team.

That top line, the “would you spell that for me” line is really good. Scary good. The second and third are okay too, and it only gets dicey at the very bottom. Same goes for the defence. The top two pairs are very good. Plus they have two MacKenzie’s, one first name and one last, which other team has that?

This is not going to be a walkover of a bad team, so maybe the Leafs had better play more than intermittently like they did last night.

And we have a whole new set of lines for tonight: