Following a tough loss against Tampa Bay, the Toronto Maple Leafs will look to reverse their luck against the Panthers to finish off the Florida road trip on Hockey Night in Canada.
After falling 5-1 to the Wild on Thursday, the Panthers extended their current losing streak to four and currently sit dead last in the Eastern Conference. Team captain Aaron Ekblad said his team is currently, “a few mistakes from being in the game.”
The Panthers have struggled at times defensively this season (110 goals against), but a lot of it starts in net, where Florida is getting the fourth-worst save percentage at 5v5 despite sitting top 10 in high-danger chances against and top five in scoring chances against. Mike Babcock noted before the game that the Panthers’ ability to clog up the neutral zone is as good as any team in the league.
With Roberto Luongo in and out due to injury, James Reimer is a sub. 890 right now over 16 starts and Michael Hutchinson has fared no better (.839 in 4GP). That kind of goaltending wreaks havoc on a team’s confidence and overall ability to stay aggressive as opposed to fearing each mistake is going to be a costly one. Florida does have Luongo back and healthy right now, however, and his history of standing on his head against the Leafs is well known by this point.
Florida’s top forwards have produced at high rates goal-scoring wise this year, although they haven’t controlled play all that well overall. Most troubling are the struggles of their depth lines. Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov sit in the bottom five on the team in shot attempts generated per hour and are about even on goals/for against together in the toughest role on the team matchup-wise. Colton Sceviour and Nick Bjugstad are also about even on goals share, but that’s followed by seven Panthers forwards at or below 45% Goals For at 5v5. The Leafs should be able to outmatch them depth wise as they roll out their full complement of forwards for just the second time this season.
That’s because Zach Hyman returns tonight from his two-game suspension for his hit on Charlie McAvoy. With Hyman plugging into his usual spot on the left next to John Tavares and Mitch Marner, Frederik Gauthier will be a healthy scratch as Par Lindholm shifts back into the center position on the bottom line.
The fact that the Leafs went a big oh-fer on the power play with a shorthanded goal against versus Tampa has generated some chatter about the PP units’ effectiveness recently (0 for their last 12). Fact is, the Leafs put 15 shots on net and were credited with 16 scoring chances on the night on the man advantage. The top unit was able to move the puck side to side and funnel the puck to the net effectively, but Andrei Vasilevskiy’ superhuman performance made all the difference. Mitch Marner is in the process of trying to adjust to team’s prescout on his pass-first tendencies, but with those kinds of looks, the top unit is bound to break through eventually. Tonight should represent a good opportunity to do just that against a Panthers PK that is killing in the bottom 10 in the league.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the Panthers:
According to what we’ve looked at, they’re the number one team in the league at clogging up the neutral zone. We’ve got to be aware of that and understand how to play. We talked about that so we can put some pressure on their D. Obviously, they’re a team that needs a win and we’re a team that needs a win. It should be a good game.
Babcock on whether the long season is going to be a challenge for Igor Ozhiganov:
I haven’t seen it be a factor yet. I’m not saying it’s not going to be a factor, but it hasn’t been to this point. He is a guy who is getting better. His ability to pass the puck is so important. As he gets used to the tigher quarters and gets quicker, it’s good for us. We think he’s got a whole other level to get to. That is sure what our plan is with him and we’re hoping he’s going that way.
Babcock on whether Auston Matthews’ skating as well as he did before his injury:
We were just talking about that. Last game might’ve been the first game he’s sailed out of the d-zone. In order to sail out of the d-zone, you have to play 200 feet and get back there and be available and go. We’ll know more in the next little bit, but just by talking to our science people and going through it, it should be time here, pretty close now. When you look at that, it takes a chunk of time to get your legs back.
Babcock on Roberto Luongo:
He reads the game better than most goalies. He’s been big enough and he’s been able to play deep in his net. He’s obviously been able to spend some time staying healthy. As you get older, you need more help. You need a backup who can play some games for you so you can stay at your best.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#18 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#63 Tyler Ennis – #26 Par Lindholm – #28 Connor Brown
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Scratched: Justin Holl, Martin Marincin, Frederik Gauthier
Florida Panthers Projected Lines
#11 Jonathan Huberdeau – #16 Alexander Barkov – #68 Mike Hoffman
#72 Frank Vatrano – #95 Henrik Borgstrom – #63 Evgenii Dadonov
#22 Troy Brouwer – #Jared McCann – #62 Denis Malgin
#18 Micheal Haley – #91 Juho Lammikko – #8 Jayce Hawryluk
#3 Keith Yandle – #5 Aaron Ekblad
#18 Micheal Matheson – #13 Mark Pysyk
#6 Alex Petrovic – #52 Mackenzie Weegar
#1 Roberto Luongo
#23 James Reimer
Injured: Jamie McGinn, Derek Mackenzie, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad