The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to snap a four-game losing slump when they host the Florida Panthers on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. EST, TSN4).
A blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday has brought on some lineup changes for the Leafs. Seth Griffith, picked up off of waivers from the Bruins on Oct. 11, will play his first game as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Curiously, Peter Holland will make way despite some good early-season performances as the team’s fourth-line center. He has yet to find the scoresheet outside of one helper, but that would seem to have less to do with his play and more to do with a lack of luck around the net in the early stages. He’s helped the fourth-line break even in possession, but his 3.33% 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage is a team-low.
The AHL points-per-game leader in 2015-16, Griffith skate alongside Ben Smith and Matt Martin on the fourth line. That doesn’t seem to set Griffith up well for success offensively, but he may get some powerplay time given he’s been in the man-advantage rotation in practice.
On the blue line, Matt Hunwick will miss the game with a lower-body injury and Martin Marincin will step into his place. Marincin has not played since the 5-4 OT loss in Winnipeg; he missed the Minnesota game with a minor injury and was a healthy scratch for the next two. He spent the majority of his ice time in the first three games paired with Morgan Rielly on his off side and struggled on the right at times. He should benefit from a return to the left, as well as some lighter usage alongside Roman Polak on the team’s bottom pair.
Defenceman Frank Corrado will remain a healthy scratch for the eighth game running for the second consecutive season. It took Corrado until mid-December to enter the lineup in 2015-16, but he had arrived at the end of training camp with no familiarity with Mike Babcock’s systems and he was also able to get into some games with the Toronto Marlies on a seven-game conditioning stint. He’s now had a full year with the organization, came to camp in good shape and put together a strong preseason — including four points in four games — so the treatment feels a little unfair in light of the team’s early defensive woes.
Nikita Zaitsev and Morgan Rielly are expected to play a second straight game together on the Leafs’ top pair. While no one on the Leafs defence had a good night on Tuesday, both Rielly – Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner – Connor Carrick seem like the Leafs’ best pairing options in the top-four for the time being, and they’re going to need some time to gel.
In net, Mike Babcock is going right back to Frederik Andersen after a few days of reassuring his struggling starter in the media. There was no sense in hitting the panic button six games into the season and creating a goaltending crisis five starts into Andersen’s five-year contract by sitting him after a day’s rest. The only way forward for Andersen is to be a professional, ignore the outside noise as much as possible, and play through the early turbulence.
The Florida Panthers enter this matchup 3-2-1 on the season and are coming off of a loss to Pittsburgh in which they coughed up a 2-0 lead. The Atlantic Division champions currently have a surprise scoring leader in undrafted 25-year-old Jonathan Marchessault. The diminutive winger bounced around the league a little – with stops in Columbus and Tampa – but has found some early success on the Florida top line alongside Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr with eight points in his first six games.
The Panthers will start Roberto Luongo — not James Reimer — sparing Leafs fans the potential for further histrionics after the Patrik Laine hat trick game last week and Steven Stamkos four-point night on Tuesday.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
Leo Komarov – Nazem Kadri – Connor Brown
van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
Matt Martin – Ben Smith – Seth Griffith
Morgan Rielly – Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner – Connor Carrick
Martin Marincin – Roman Polak
Scratched: Frank Corrado, Peter Holland
Injured: Josh Leivo, Matt Hunwick
Starter: Frederik Andersen (Confirmed)
Backup: Jhonas Enroth
Florida Panthers Projected Lines
Jonathan Marchessault – Aleksander Barkov – Jaromir Jagr
Kyle Rau – Vincent Trocheck – Reilly Smith
Jared McCann – Denis Malgin – Colton Sceviour
Greg McKegg – Derek MacKenzie – Shane Harper
Keith Yandle – Aaron Ekblad
Michael Matheson – Jason Demers
Mark Pysyk – Alex Petrovic
Starter: Roberto Luongo (Confirmed)
Backup: James Reimer