A night after one of their most satisfying victories of the season so far, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in Sunrise to face a rested Panthers team that should be desperate to end a seven-game losing slide (7 p.m, SN Ontario).
The Leafs executed and competed very well in Tampa last night, controlling over 51% of the shot attempts while owning the critical ice with an 80% share of the shots from the slot and a 68% share of scoring chances at 5-on-5. The reunited Hyman-Matthews-Nylander line combined for 12 scoring chances, while the Tavares line had another good night and scored the game winner. Nazem Kadri, who hadn’t scored in ten games, got the Leafs rolling with their first of the game and contributed to a positive overall night for his line with Marleau and Kapanen as well.
It looks like center Vincent Trocheck will return for the Panthers tonight, although head coach Bob Boughner noted that he’ll be making the decision at game time now that he’s been cleared to play by team doctors. Trocheck hasn’t played since November 19 after producing 14 points in the team’s first 18 games of the year, including seven power-play assists. His return should be a big boost to a team that has lacked enough depth contributions outside of their top forwards in Jonathan Huberdeau, Alexander Barkov, Mike Hoffman, and Evgenii Dadonov.
Florida hasn’t played since Monday after dropping their last two games by 5-1 scorelines against Vancouver and Montreal. In the game against the Habs, the Panthers fired 53 shots on net, but they surrendered three goals in the second period and couldn’t recover despite a big third-period push. Boosted by the (likely) return of Trocheck, and having to wait three days for another game after a frustrating loss, the Panthers should be rested and ready, but the Leafs might be able to jump on them early coming in with the momentum of a big win less than 24 hours prior. A fast start against a fragile team could go a long way to completing this Florida sweep.
Always a big factor for the Panthers is the status of starter Roberto Luongo. The 39-year-old hasn’t been the same of late and has been pulled in two of his last five starts. While he was great in his first game against the Leafs this season, he got the yank in his second game against Toronto just five days later. It’s hard to say what we’ll get from him tonight — he’s lost his last five starts and has an average .851 save percentage in those games — but traditionally, Luongo loves playing against the Leafs. Toronto did a good job last night of making life harder on Andrei Vasilevskiy by getting to the hard areas of the ice, so if Luongo is the Lu of old tonight, more of the same will be the order of the day.
At the other end, a now-healthy Garret Sparks returns for his first start since the team’s 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders in late December and will be looking to start his second half on the right foot after winning six of nine in 2018 (.905 save percentage).
Game Day Quotes
Babcock on the Panthers’ ability to clog up the neutral zone:
When you’re playing Florida, they don’t give you anything off the rush. It’s all o-zone play. If you’re betting on having speed through the neutral zone, it’s probably the wrong night.
Mike Babcock on the Hyman – Matthews – Nylander line:
I thought last night was Matthews’ best game to me. He was just all over it. Had the puck a lot and was good offensively and defensively and was really skating. In the last four games… I know what everyone else is looking for — whether he’s scored or not — but what I am looking for is, “Is he at the dominant stage? Is he skating like that?”
He was really dominant at the start of the year. When he first came back, he had a bit of a phase, but it’s tough for you. His skating has really come on. It’s going to be the same for Willy. You’ve just got to keep working. The league is fair and it is honest and it is hard. It should be like that. You’ve just got to keep grinding.
With Hyms on their line, they’ve got workers. Go to work.
Garret Sparks on getting back to full health and returning to the crease tonight:
I feel better than I did prior to the injury now. I think that it was unfortunate that it happened, but I didn’t let it set me back at all. I just used it as an opportunity to continue working and getting my body where it needs to be to be at its best.
Sparks on adjusting to starting sparingly:
Goalies play really well when they get into a rhythm. When you’re hot, you’re hot. But I think that having more time in between starts allows you to continue to improve yourself and your game when you’re not actively in net playing games. Every opportunity that I have to start is just an opportunity to showcase what I’ve learned since the last start.
Sparks on the areas of his game he is working on:
One of the best parts of my game is just control and controlling the game and being in control. I didn’t think that I did a great job of that initially. We’ve just focused a lot on rebounds and composure. Those are the kinds of things that give you control of the game. It is just making simple plays and keeping things simple.
Patrick Marleau on building on a big win in Tampa:
I think it was one of our better games last game. Hopefully we can replicate that and keep building on that. That’s the way the games are going to be played and won for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.
Zach Hyman on rejoining Matthews and Nylander’s line:
It was good to be back. I thought we played well. Playing with those guys is easy. I’m just going out there and doing my job.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #29 William Nylander
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#18 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #12 Connor Brown
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#40 Garret Sparks
#31 Frederik Andersen
Injured: Tyler Ennis (broken ankle)
Scratched: Justin Holl, Martin Marincin
Florida Panthers Projected Lines
#72 Frank Vatrano – #16 Alexander Barkov – #63 Evgenii Dadonov
#11 Jonathan Huberdeau – #21 Vincent Trocheck – #27 Nick Bjusgstad
#68 Mike Hoffman – #95 Hendrik Borgstrom – #62 Denis Malgin
#8 Jayce Hawryluk – #90 Jared McCann – #7 Colton Sceviour
#3 Keith Yandle – #5 Aaron Ekblad
#18 Micheal Matheson – #13 Mark Pysyk
#12 Ian McCoshen – #96 Josh Brown
#1 Roberto Luongo
#23 James Reimer
Injured: Jamie McGinn, Derek Mackenzie, Mackenzie Weegar