PANTHERS (39-22-9) at MAPLE LEAFS (24-34-11)
Before we get to any hockey talk – just wanted to extend a “Top-O-da-Mornin’ to ya”. Yes it is St. Paddy’s day here. In many fine establishments across this great nation there will be many celebrating and cheering on their favourite team with a green theme.
It’s an ageless wonder versus youthful exuberance. That is one way to describe tonights contest when the Florida Panthers look to prey on the young and inexperienced Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Jagr must be a genetic freak” is how Leafs coach Mike Babcock described number 68 at Wednesday’s pressor. Possibly the Panthers MVP nominee, Jagr continues to confound and baffle the masses as the oldest player in the NHL. What’s also amazing is that at 44 years he is leading his team in total points.
When asked for a quote on his take on Jagr, former 50- goal scorer and Florida Panther Ray Sheppard simply replied, “One word . . . AMAZING.”
Jagr is only one man on a team that is now starting to benefit from it’s rebuilding efforts. For only the second time in 15 years the Panthers appear to be heading to the playoffs. Despite winning their last game against Montreal, the Panthers are just 4-4-2 over their last 10 games. It is confusing trying to put a finger on why the poor record of late. Florida lost to some very beatable teams over the recent past.
Goaltending appears to be solid as both Luongo and backup Montoya are posting decent numbers. Luongo’s play has him in the top ten in many major goaltending categories. Florida’s top five scorers have been putting up the points. Huberdeau recently returned from the injured reserve and has actually increased his point production since. Current injuries for Florida include Bolland, Mitchell, MacKenzie, Gudbranson and Jokinen. The last three only hitting the IR prior to the Montreal game. It’s reported that Jokinen will return for tonights game.
Perhaps Florida has hit a bit of a slump. It happens to every team at some point during the season. With so few games left in the season, now is the time to start winning games.
Yet another call up may be making his NHL debut tonight. Keep an eye out for Connor Brown. That makes 9 within the Leafs organization making their NHL debut this year. Brown has been called up to replace the ailing Leo Komarov (waiting for the shut down announcement).
This has been an exciting year for the Buds with so many firsts. It started way back when Garret Sparks posted a shutout in his NHL debut. First Leaf to ever accomplish such a feat. The string of firsts has continued right to the teams last game when Ben Smith scored his first goal as a Leaf.
What is becoming clear is the Leaf rookies are getting used to Mike Babcock hockey. It takes a bit of time to learn a system and the demands of the coach. This was apparent watching Toronto’s last game vs. Tampa Bay where the Leafs were more confident in defensive zone play and overall positioning.
Bernier has back- stopped the team to a modest two- game winning streak. His play is reminiscent of the Bernier fans saw when he came over from Los Angeles. Perhaps he has turned around what has been a dreadful season for him.
With so many call ups showing they are ready for the NHL and some pretty good team play some pundits are predicting the Leafs making the playoffs next year. Perhaps that is a bit of a long shot. While things are looking good for the future. The Leafs would benefit more from another year or two as bottom feeders. Here is hoping Leafs Nation is on board.
Enjoy the game tonight.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Nikita Soshnikov – Nazem Kadri – Connor Brown
P. A. Parenteau – William Nylander – Zach Hyman
Colin Greening – Brooks Laich – Peter Holland
Milan Michalek – Ben Smith – Michael Grabner
Morgan Rielly – Martin Marincin
Jake Gardiner – Connor Carrick
Rinat Valiev – Frank Corrado
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen – Vincent Trocheck – Reilly Smith
Jiri Hudler – Nick Bjugstad – Teddy Purcell
Garrett Wilson – Greg McKegg – Shawn Thornton
Dmitry Kulikov – Aaron Ekblad
Brian Campbell – Steven Kampfer
Jakub Kindl – Alex Petrovic
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Gdiff (5v5) — -29
Gdiff (All) — -38
CF% (5v5) – 51.7
PP% – 14.7
PK% – 81.0
Gdiff (5v5) — +19
Gdiff (All) — +23
CF% (5v5) – 48.1
PP% – 17.1
PK% – 81.7