The Leafs host the Panthers tonight in what will be labeled a good test of character after Saturday’s debacle against Boston. Teams (even good ones) lose two games in a row all the time, but coming off a 7-0 licking in their own barn we’ll expect a much better effort and “compete level” out of the team tonight. Interviews with the players called the game a lesson in what happens when they sit back and don’t take their game to the opposition. The Bruins for their part did a good job preventing that with a strong trap game to which the Leafs had no answer.
It has been a point of particular emphasis from Ron Wilson to respond to losses with urgency in order to avoid the type of extended losing slump that killed the Leafs’ playoff hopes last November, and so far this season the Leafs have not lost twice in a row. They’ll look to keep it that way tonight against the Panthers, who after an off-season of lavish spending seem like an at least marginally improved team, sitting at 6-4-3 a month into the 2011-12 campaign. They’re coming off three straight shootout loses headed into tonight, but do have points in six of their last seven.
After a short three game stint with the Toronto Marlies, Matt Frattin rejoins the Maple Leafs after recall on Tuesday.
With an NHL club that, when healthy, boasts of six NHL centres, it is of little surprise that Brian Burke and Ron Wilson opted to recall a winger as opposed to yet another centre. Frattin’s talents and offensive pressure on the wing, allows one of the five remaining pivots to move into a spot between Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. The move also allows Joe Colborne to maintain his dominance at the AHL level – as he presently leads the league with 19 points – and continue to improve the more minute aspects of his game.
In his three outings with the Marlies, Frattin showed a natural prowess while on the offensive and a thirst for goal scoring. With the NCAA grad in the lineup, Toronto was 1-1-1, a welcomed improvement over their previous two losses. The natural scorer took every opportunity presented to get on the board, leading the team with 13 shots during his time there. His efforts were finally rewarded on Sunday with a two-goal effort, his first professional tallies of his career.
Frattin’s inclusion on the Marlies as a primary shooter relieved both Colborne and Nazem Kadri, natural puck movers, to take the shot. This new balance vastly improved the Marlies cycle game while on the powerplay, with a first unit that offered four forwards and an offensively minded rearguard. The quicker movement of the disc combined with the multitude of options is what generated Frattin’s first goal, a clapper from the right half-boards after taking the feed from a down-low Kadri.
Frattin’s time with the Marlies has given him an increased presence on ice in many different game situations, and allowed him to relieve the weight of not scoring. Even if his puck doesn’t find twine at the NHL level, his determined efforts in the opponents end will continue to create opportunities for he and his line mates.
In addition to the return of Matt Frattin to the lineup, Luke Schenn and Jonas Gustavsson are also back in the lineup. Tyler Bozak is back between Kessel and Lupul while Frattin joins Matthew Lombardi and Joey Crabb on the third line.