It’s a match up we’ll see a lot more of come the divisional realignment next season.
The Maple Leafs look to make it three in a row as they begin their post-Christmas three-game road swing tonight against a future divisional opponent in the Florida Panthers.
It hasn’t been an easy task for visiting opponents at the BankAtlantic Centre so far this season. The surprising Panthers have earned at least a point in 13 of their 16 home games. Â The Panthers return home tonight looking to end a three-game losing skid, including an 8-0 loss to the Bruins in Boston before the break.
The Leafs will be without veteran defenceman John Michael Liles for an undetermined length of time as he’s the latest addition to the NHL’s growing list of concussion victims. The 31-year-old joins 29-year-old Mike Komisarek in theÂ infirmary, leaving 26-year-old Dion Phaneuf as the elder statesman of the Leafs defence ranks.
To many, the Leafs and Panthers are the two surprise teams so far in the East, and offensive leaders Kris Versteeg and Phil Kessel are two of the bigger surprises as far as the scoring race goes. Versteeg’s 37 points tie him for tenth in NHL scoring while Kessel’s 41 put him in a tie for second.
The two teams have thrived in different fashions through 35 games, as the Panthers have been more adept at preventing goals than they have been scoring them (21st in goals for).
A point of emphasis for newly-extended coach Ron Wilson will be to avoid a slow start coming out of Christmas break. Especially so when you take into account Florida’s .765 win percentage after scoring first.
James Reimer starts for the Leafs. Jose Theodore mans the pipes for the Panthers.