Following a deja-vu performance from the Rangers’ Alexandar Georgiev leading to a dropped point on Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs will look to capitalize on more of their chances tonight against the Florida Panthers (7 p.m EST, TSN4)
Florida has managed to hover around the perimeter for most of the year and now find themselves in ‘no man’s land’ two spots out of the playoffs late in the season. They still boast a talented core of players, but just haven’t had the depth or goaltending performance needed to find themselves in true postseason contention. They’ve been an above average defensive team on the season, sitting 12th in shot attempts against and 7th in scoring chances against, but their offensive numbers haven’t been as favorable, with a shot attempt rate that sits 19th and a scoring chance rate that sits 26th in the league.
There have been a few solid stretches for the Panthers in the last few months and their record has been better overall in the second half of the year. They went 8-5-2 in February before a six-game losing streak through early March brought things back to Earth. They’ve also lost three of four coming into tonight, including a 7-3 loss in their last game against Boston on Saturday.
Since James Reimer suffered an injury on February 26th, the Panthers have given Roberto Luongo and rookie Sam Montembeault each some starts. Montembeault, the 21-year-old 2015 third rounder, has spent the majority of the last two years as the starter in Springfield (AHL). He’s managed a .901 Sv% in 37 games this year and .896 in 47 games in ’17-18 — somewhat deceiving numbers given the Thunderbirds’ poor record in that time frame. He’s started eight games this year, five of which have come in the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, he was in net in Saturday’s 7-3 loss to the Bruins and has lost three starts in a row. Dodging a start from Luongo, traditionally a Leaf killer, is ostensibly good news for Toronto.
In Leafs news, Martin Marincin will finally return tonight as the team finally begins to get some good news surrounding several of their injured defensemen. He will replace Igor Ozhiganov on the bottom pair tonight, who seems to have lost his place in the lineup to Justin Holl for the time being. As you can see in his comments below, Mike Babcock has confirmed that Calle Rosen, who has returned from injury and played last night for the Marlies, will play one more game in the AHL before he can be called up if a body is still needed on the left side come next week. Travis Dermott, who returned to full team practice recently, appears to be not far off, either. The big question mark ahead of the playoffs surrounds Jake Gardiner, but he has also resumed skating.
Now seven points back of Boston with seven games remaining, the focus has shifted away from home ice and more towards piling up some goals and stringing some wins together to feel a little more confident heading into the Round 1 series. Despite a good effort against the Rangers overall on Saturday, the Leafs‘ sticks largely remain cold. This is a good opportunity — one of several upcoming against weaker competition — to remedy that tonight.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the focus for their remaining regular season games:
The challenge for us is to get playing the best we can and feeling real good about ourselves, having swagger going [into the playoffs]. We’ve talked a lot about what we’ve been through. We like our game the last three games. We just think our game has to improve. We’re getting lots of opportunities to see lots of players right now and I think that’s important as well so we can make the right decisions at the right time. It looks like our D is starting to get healthy and that’s an important piece for us as well. In the meantime, we’re figuring out, if that doesn’t happen, what we do.
Babcock with an update on Dermott and Gardiner’s injuries:
Dermott I think has been cleared for all contact in practice. We had him in a red jersey the last couple of days, so we’ll probably still keep him in that. He sat out a few drills yesterday, I don’t think he’ll sit out anymore. Gardiner took a day off, felt better yesterday, and I haven’t talked to anyone about him today. I don’t really know.
Babcock on Calle Rosen, who has recently returned from injury with the Marlies:
Rosen played last night. I had a good chance to see him play. I mean, he hadn’t played in a while, so now he has a week to practice and play one more game for them. We’ll try to give him an opportunity here. Obviously, it depends on his health and what goes on down there.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #29 William Nylander
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#42 Trevor Moore – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #28 Connor Brown
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#8 Jake Muzzin – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#52 Martin Marincin – #3 Justin Holl
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Injured: Jake Gardiner (back), Travis Dermott (shoulder)
Scratched: Tyler Ennis, Nic Petan
Florida Panthers Projected Lines
#11 Jonathan Huberdeau – #16 Aleksander Barkov – #63 Evgenii Dadonov
#68 Mike Hoffman – #21 Vincent Trochek – #8 Jayce Hawryluk
#72 Frank Vatrano – #15 Riley Sheahan – #22 Troy Brouwer
#88 Jamie McGinn – #95 Henrik Borgstrom – #7 Colton Sceviour
#19 Micheal Matheson – #5 Aaron Ekblad
#3 Keith Yandle – #52 Mackenzie Weegar
#13 Mark Pysyk – #2 Josh Brown
#33 Sam Montembeault
#1 Roberto Luongo
Injured: Derek Mackenzie