Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers

Tuesday, March 29, 2016 @ 7:30 pm EDT
BB&T Center (Sunrise, FL)
TV: TSN4 Radio: TSN 1050
SBNation: Litter Box Cats
I'll tell you what, it's time for the Leafs to hit the beach on the other side of Florida and then, if there's time, play the Panthers tonight.

Remember those heady days when teams played their backup for Leaf games, and unless it was an Islanders game, it all just seemed to get easier? Ben Bishop says thanks for stopping by, and you have fun in Sunrise, you hear?

Those days seem to be gone, and this is the reward for the steadily improving play of the Leafs and the reasonably painless way the rookies have fit into the lineup. It also means that to spoil the Panthers fun, and their attempts to get to the top of the division, we need the good version of Jonathan Bernier. Not the mirror universe one where he lets in easy floaters and spits indiscriminately.

Oh, yeah, this is Star Wars night in Panther land, so that ought to be fun. Bernier dodged a bullet though, they're handing out rats for the Devils game later on in the week.

Roberto Luongo has to be tough too though, the Leafs average 31 shots on goal per game because the fifth-highest total in the NHL.

The Leafs

Tyler Bozak has come back from injury like he's on fire with things to prove, and he has 4 points in his last 5 games. Ben Smith has been hot with 5 points in 7 games. Achariya gave that away to the Litter Box Cats fans in her Q and A.

Connor Brown has been settling in, and while Mike Babcock gradually weans William Nylander off the easy competition, we can watch and see how he responds.


In numbers ending in zeroes news, P.-A. Parenteau is hunting his 100th goal. He just needs one. Amazing to think that he took so long to break into the NHL, he's only at 99.

Colin Greening needs 3 points to get to 100.

The Panthers

The Panthers are pushing for first place and they have a very nice schedule of non-playoff teams. This is the current state of things in Spanish if you're so inclined.

Jaromir Jagr is their Masterton nominee, and you can't argue with his dedication and commitment to hockey. But don't get mesmerized by him and his young linemates. The second line is scary too: the trio of Vincent Trocheck, Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith have combined for 17 goals and 41 points since March 1. That's a nice little hot streak. And we remember Jussi Jokinen and his goals, we just wish we didn't.

In return for answering Litterboxcat's questions, Todd answered a few of ours.

Q&A with Todd of Litterboxcats

Q: Analytics people are very skeptical of the Panthers' success this season due to a reasonably high PDO. What do you think accounts for this success, and do you think it's sustainable?

A: I'm not much of an analytics guy, but I have to admit, the Panthers do have a few players shooting absolutely lights out percentages. As far as the sustainability of their success goes, yes, they absolutely can keep it going. To borrow a piece of football terminology, the Cats play a bend, but don't break system defensively. They are content to surrender shots from low percentage areas and let goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya deal with them.

Florida is a very dangerous counterattacking team and does a solid good of possessing the puck once they gain the zone, especially the first line. The club's top-six has been dynamite this season, with four of the forwards already over 50 points and Aleksander Barkov and Reilly Smith knocking on the door with 49 and 47, respectively.

The pre-deadline deals for Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell, surrounding Nick Bjugstad with quality wingers who can score, have shored up the third line, giving the Panthers a very effective and deep top-nine as we move towards the postseason. When totally healthy, the Cats defense is also a strength and has little drop off when you get to the seventh man or the first couple call-ups from AHL Portland.

That defensive depth has been tested recently with injuries to Willie Mitchell and Erik Gudbranson, making Steven Kampfer and recent acquisition Jakub Kindl full-timers. Gudbranson should be back soon, while the outlook on Mitchell, who has long history of concussions, is unclear at this point, with doctors recommending that he might want to retire.

That the Panthers have managed to stay among the top teams in the Eastern Conference despite battling some serious injury issues during the second half of the season season proves this is a team not doing it with mirrors or riding puck luck.

Q: Has amazing, ageless forward Jaromir Jagr shown any on-ice signs of slowing down at this point in the season?

A: With 12 points in 13 March games, the short answer to that question is no. However, the Jagr we get at home seems to be a little different than the Jagr we are seeing on the road. Seventeen of the ageless wonder's 25 goals have come at the BB&T Center this season.

That makes me wonder if traveling tires him out to the point where it is having a seriously adverse effect on his production or if the discrepancy is just a statistical anomaly. Either way, the Panthers will need Jagr to score on the road if they are going make a deep playoff run.

Q: Everyone knows about Barkov's great year, and the play of Ekblad and Huberdeau. Who else should we be keeping our eyes on?

A: Feasting your eyes on any of Florida's second line (or in reality, Line 1B) would be wise move. Reilly Smith (24G/23A) has been a significant upgrade over Jimmy Hayes, the player he was traded for this past summer.

Savvy veteran Jussi Jokinen (tied for the team scoring lead) is having one of the best years of his career. But if we narrowed that down to one player, it would be center Vincent Trocheck, who recent play is making me think he just might be the club's most talented forward offensively.



Assuming the same lines as the Tampa game:

Milan Michalek - Nazem Kadri - Michael Grabner
Zach Hyman - William Nylander - P.-A. Parenteau
Brad Boyes - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown
Colin Greening - Brooks Laich - Ben Smith

Martin Marincin - Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick
Rinat Valiev - Frank Corrado

Jonathan Bernier
Garret Sparks


From daily faceoff and a bit of Twitter research:

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith
Teddy Purcell - Nick Bjugstad - Jiri Hudler
Garrett Wilson - Greg McKegg - Logan Shaw

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad
Dmitry Kulikov - Steve Kampfer
Jakub Kindl - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo
Al Montoya