The Maple Leafs will trot out their once-old-but-now-new-again pairings of Tavares-Marner and Matthews-Nylander as they look to begin reversing the recent trend against a Panthers team that has beaten them in five of their last six meetings dating back to last season’s playoff series (7:00 p.m. EST, TSN4). 

With the pressure mounting on Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to get their offensive production and overall five-on-five play back on track, the hope is that a confident William Nylander, and a Bertuzzi-Tavares duo that has been rolling as of late, can breathe some fresh air/confidence into the pair now that they’re on separate lines.

The Leafs will very likely need more than one line going offensively tonight against a deep Panthers team that can roll its lines at the opposition and is suppressing scoring chances and goals at a high level defensively during their 13-7-1 start to the season. Notably, Florida is in a tired situation coming off of a feisty 5-0 win over the Senators last night in which there were 99 penalty minutes in the third period alone.

On that note, Sheldon Keefe will insert Ryan Reaves back into the lineup as Keefe returns to 12 forwards and six defensemen. Reaves is coming off his first goal as a Leaf against Chicago in a game where the fourth line was quite effective overall, but the challenge is greater against an opponent with Florida’s depth.

Reaves’ inclusion in the lineup is going to be an ongoing controversy/talking point in the market, but this is the kind of matchup where if Reaves isn’t able to play and provide a physical presence, what’s the point of having him on the team at all? In that sense, he kind of has to play and prove his worth in these kinds of games if he’s going to be on the club’s active roster.

Against a rival that loves to roll in the mud, challenges the Leafs physically, and thrives in the extracurriculars, if this isn’t the kind of game where Reaves can bring some on-ice value, there probably isn’t any on-ice value to be provided. It remains to be seen how the temperature of the game plays out tonight, but after many questioned the effectiveness of his policeman role following the Marchand-Liljegren incident in Boston, this could turn out to be a pretty big night for Reaves to show his worth without going overboard and costing his team.

It always feels a little premature to talk about the standings at the 20-game mark, but it is notable that the Leafs are currently looking up at three teams in the Atlantic Division if we rank it by points percentage: Boston, Detroit (who has won three in a row and has now added Patrick Kane to their mix), and Florida, who is four points ahead with two more games played. With Florida, Boston, and Ottawa coming up in the next four games, it’s a great time for the Leafs‘ best players to elevate their games and for the team to start stacking better 60-minute efforts.

Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on the challenge of coping with Florida’s hard hitting/checking on the forecheck:

It is less about the hitting. It is more about how they move and play as a five-man group. The defense has a really good mix of length and speed. They get down on the walls really aggressively. Their forwards cover very well for them.

It is a significant challenge. It didn’t take them very long to assert themselves and their game last night. It was really evident.

Keefe on the message to Ryan Reaves as he re-enters the lineup:

Just to build on the game that he played in Chicago. I thought he did a really good job. There were a lot of things in that game that were exactly what we needed from him.

I talked to him when he was coming out going into Pittsburgh. It was my decision to go 11 and 7. It was not a reflection of his game. In fact, we want him to sort of bottle up that game in Chicago, how that line operated together, and bring it forth tonight.

John Tavares on the difficulty of the matchup vs. Florida:

They’re obviously a really complete team. They have really carried over what they developed toward the end of last season going all the way to the finals.

They are a potent offensive team that forechecks really well. They have become extremely stingy defensively. They show that in a lot of metrics and in the way they play.

We are definitely going to need our best tonight. It is going to be a competitive game. We are going to have to go out there and earn our ice, space, and opportunities, and obviously defend strong.

Jake McCabe on the rivalry with the Panthers after last year’s playoff series:

The competitiveness is heightened. The urgency is heightened. Whenever a team ends your season, you get up for those games pretty easily.

Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Panthers

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#23 Matthew Knies – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#89 Nick Robertson – #11 Max Domi – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#18 Noah Gregor – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves

#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #22 Jake McCabe
#2 Simon Benoit – #25 Conor Timmins

Starter: #60 Joseph Woll
#35 Ilya Samsonov

Scratched: William Lagesson, Bobby McMann
Injured: John Klingberg, Timothy Liljegren

Florida Panthers Projected Lines

#17 Evan Rodrigues – #16 Aleksander Barkov – #13 Sam Reinhart
#23 Carter Verhaeghe – #9 Sam Benentt – #19 Matthew Tkachuk
#27 Eetu Luostarinen – #15 Anton Lundell – #21 Nick Cousins
#12 Jonah Gadjovich – #82 Kevin Stenlund – #94 Ryan Lomberg

#42 Gustav Forsling – #5 Aaron Ekblad
#77 Niko Mikkola – #62 Brandon Montour
#91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson – #7 Dmitry Kulikov

Starter: #41 Anthony Stolarz (unconfirmed)
#72 Sergei Bobrovsky

Injured: Josh Mahura