GDT: Leafs at Panthers, 7:30pm (Sportsnet)

GDT: Leafs at Panthers, 7:30pm (Sportsnet)

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Tyler Bozak
The Leafs will look to bring a physical edge to Florida tonight. (Getty Images)

Tyler Bozak
Truculence. Pugnacity. A Panther craves not these things. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Fresh off a well-earned, win-or-bust victory in Carolina last night, the Maple Leafs face yet another must-win scenario this evening as they pay a visit to the lowly Florida Panthers.

In what will be a bit of a blast from the past, Jean-Sebastien Giguere will get his first start in the Toronto goal since February 12th, while James Reimer, having started 13 games in a row and 25 of 35 since January 1st, receives a much-deserved night off.

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Storyline: Battle of the Backups

At first glance, it might seem a bit odd that Giguere would get the call over the forgotten man, Jonas Gustavsson, who has been quietly biding his time in the press box. Indeed, it would seem that facing a struggling offense, away from the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd, would be the perfect situation in which to give Gustavsson a chance to reclaim his confidence — and that of the coaching staff. After all, if he is to be in the plans for next season, at some point the team will need to figure out where his game is at.

(For more on Gustavsson and the three-headed goalie monster — pun fully intended — see Conor’s article from earlier today.)

Upon closer inspection, however, there is sound logic behind the decision to give Giguere the nod. For one, the team is in the thick of a playoff race and Giguere has been through it before. Secondly — and more importantly — in two starts against the Panthers earlier this season, Giguere has posted a 2-0-0 record with a 1.92 GAA and .927 Sv%.

The Panthers will counter with Scott Clemmenson, which in itself is a somewhat interesting move considering he has gone 0-1-1 against the Leafs this season with a 2.90 GAA and .885 Sv%, while Tomas Vokoun has gone 1-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .970 Sv%. However, with Vokoun set to depart as a free agent at season’s end, it would appear the Panthers are trying to get Clemmenson (who has 1 year remaining on his deal) into a few extra games in order to gauge what they have in him for next season.

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Keys to the Game

Passing: Although the Panthers do not boast a strong attack, averaging fewer goals-per-game and (amazingly) a less-effective PP than that of the Leafs, they do possess good speed among their forward ranks. The Leafs would do well to avoid the lazy, turnover-waiting-to-happen passing plays which nearly did them in on numerous occasions against Carolina last night.

Point Shots: Oft-criticized for not shooting from the point enough, it is no coincidence that the Leafs found success against against Carolina via a willingness from the defenders — namely, Phaneuf — to let fly from the blueline. With the Panthers ranked 23rd in blocked shots, and 25th in shots allowed, taking advantage of the shooting lanes must be a key component of the Leafs’ game plan tonight.

Pugnacity: Florida ranks 16th in hits (Toronto – 7th) and are tied for the fewest PIM per game (Toronto – 16th). In other words, there is an opportunity for the Leafs to wear the Panthers’ top players down by employing a rough-and-tumble approach from the outset.

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Previous Meetings

Oct. 26 @ TOR Leafs 3, Panthers 1 (Giguere / Clemmenson)
Nov. 10 @ FLA Panthers 4, Leafs 1 (Vokoun / Gustavsson)
Feb. 1 @ TOR Leafs 4, Panthers 3 (shootout) (Giguere / Clemmenson)

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Lineup

Per AM 640’s Jonas Siegel:

MacArthur – Grabovski – Kulemin
Lupul – Kadri – Kessel
Boyce – Bozak – Crabb
Sjostrom – Brent – Brown

Aulie – Phaneuf
Gunnarsson – Schenn
Lashoff – Komisarek / Lebda

Notes:

  • Mike Komisarek’s status will be determined closer to gametime
  • If Komisarek cannot go, Brett Lebda will step in alongside Matt Lashoff
  • Gustavsson is expected to back up Giguere (complete night off for Reimer)

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Broadcast Information

  • TV: Rogers Sportsnet
  • Radio: AM 640 (Toronto & GTA), AM 900 (Hamilton & area)

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