After a three-day layoff, the Toronto Maple Leafs start their 2019-20 season series against the hot-on-their-heels Florida Panthers tonight in Sunrise (7 p.m. ET, SNO).
Thanks to a late goal from Auston Matthews before the break, the Leafs grabbed a point in a game they easily could have won. A team that has been at or near the top of the goal-scoring and chance-generating ladder since Sheldon Keefe took over, the Leafs are not used to this type of result when generating the number of good looks that they did. They ended up tied in overall shot attempts 39-39 at 5-on-5, but Toronto generated a total 2.01 expected goals to the Jets’ .82 and the shot-location chart looked like this:
In any event, the Leafs pulled a point out of the fire courtesy of Matthews and now move onto a big four-point game against the Panthers tonight. These four games against Florida between January 12 and March 23 are going to be big factors as to whether the Leafs are in a dogfight for a playoff spot down the stretch, or if they’re going to put some distance between them and the chasing pack and spend the second half of the season jostling for home-ice advantage in the first round.
Sitting just three points back of the Leafs with a game in hand, it’s uncanny how much the Panthers numbers this season mirror the Leafs’. Their record is very similar, but so are their even strength and special teams numbers as well. The Panthers are overall slightly lower event than the Leafs (fewer chances for, fewer against) but still, both teams are top 10 offensively and bottom 10 defensively on the season. The Leafs are fourth in the NHL in GF/60 with the Panthers right behind them in fifth, while both are on the opposite end in GA/60 — 22nd and 27th, respectively.
The primary reason the Leafs have kept more pucks out of their net on average is thanks to Frederik Andersen, whose up and down season has bested that of struggling free-agent signing Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky is well below his career average .917 Sv% this year at .896, and he has performed well below his team’s defensive results with a GSAx of -13.9 — that stat puts him 56th of the 60 goalies who’ve played at least 300 minutes this year.
In practice yesterday, Andreas Johnsson skated with the regular group as he has for the last few days. It appears he’s very close to a return but, considering he and Dmytro Timashov were swapping places next to Adam Brooks and Frederik Gauthier in practice, the team is likely waiting until closer to the game on the decision as to whether he can play tonight.
In goal, Frederik Andersen goes for Toronto and is looking to bounce back from an off night against the Jets.
Game Day Quotes
Auston Matthews on him and Mitch Marner’s success so far together:
We’re trying to take a step in the defensive area of the game — both of us have pretty good hand-eye coordination, so we try to anticipate where the puck is going and where the play is going. He’s a little smaller so he’s not as physical, but I don’t really throw too many hits, either. I just try to get the puck most of the time. I try to play with it as much as possible.
Matthews on playing more early in games:
It helps a lot, especially early in the game when you get a couple of chances and you kind of get your mojo going. All of over the ice it kind of helps. You want to get out there more and more. So far, obviously, I’ve been playing more than I typically have in the past, but we’re not really forechecking as much, so you’re not skating up and down the ice quite as much.
Frederik Andersen on Matthews:
His hands are really good and he’s very tenacious, I know you guys know that. You see it every day. Every game, he’s taking pucks and taking them off other guys sticks. He’s really good at that as well. Being in good positions and being good defensively will help them with the offensive chances. Auston takes the puck off the other guys’ stick and goes to score. You see it a lot.
Zach Hyman on playing with Matthews and Marner:
I try to play that hard-nosed game, go into the corners, get the puck back, and get to the net. I’m fortunate to be playing with really good players right now with Auston and Mitch. You get those guys the puck and they’re pretty dangerous.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#18 Andreas Johnsson* – #77 Adam Brooks – #33 Frederik Gauthier
#44 Morgan Rielly – #94 Tyson Barrie
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#52 Martin Marincin – #83 Cody Ceci
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Mason Marchment, Dmytro Timashov
Injured: Trevor Moore, Ilya Mikheyev, Jake Muzzin
Florida Panthers Projected Lines
#11 Jonathan Huberdeau – #16 Aleksander Barkov – #63 Evgenii Dadonov
#10 Brett Connolly – #21 Vincent Trocheck – #55 Noel Acciari
#77 Frank Vatrano – #14 Dominic Toninato – #68 Mike Hoffman
#8 Jayce Hawryluk – #9 Brian Boyle – #7 Colton Sceviour
#19 Michael Matheson – #5 Aaron Ekblad
#61 Riley Stillman – #6 Anton Stralman
#3 Keith Yandle – #2 Josh Brown
#60 Chris Driedger (starter)
#72 Sergei Bobrovsky
Injured: Mackenzie Weegar