Maple Leafs-Panthers Preview

The Florida Panthers took a six-point Southeast Division lead

into the holiday break, but their latest effort was one of the

worst in club history.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping their improved play can help

them make up ground in the Northeast Division.

Florida looks to rebound from the most lopsided shutout loss in

franchise history Tuesday night when it faces a Maple Leafs team

going for its season high-tying third straight victory.

With no playoff appearances since 2000, the Panthers (18-11-7)

have to be pleased with their spot in the standings. However,

Florida has dropped three in a row and been outscored 28-13 while

losing six of eight.

The club’s 8-0 defeat at Boston on Friday was its most one-sided

loss since falling 12-2 at Washington on Jan. 11, 1993.

“It was an old-fashioned butt kicking. There’s really nothing to

say,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “I’m usually a glass-half-full guy,

but there’s nothing to say.”

The Panthers will try to avoid their first four-game skid since

an 0-7-3 stretch March 19-April 8. However, top-line center Stephen

Weiss, a Toronto native, could miss a second straight contest with

an upper-body injury.

Weiss, third on the team with 11 goals and second with 32 points

behind former Maple Leaf Kris Versteeg (37), is one of five

Panthers lost to injury in the last four games.

“We’re a pretty banged-up team right now,” defenseman Ed

Jovanovski said after Friday’s loss. “Now we have a couple of days

off and hopefully we can rest up and get some guys back.”

The Maple Leafs (18-13-4) are glad second-year netminder James

Reimer has returned after missing more than a month with

concussion-like symptoms. After surrendering 11 goals to lose his

first three starts back, Reimer is 3-1-1 with a 2.56 goals-against

average. He turned aside 110 of 117 shots to help Toronto go 2-0-1

heading into the break.

“I’m pretty pleased that we got five out of six points this past

week,” Reimer said after making 30 saves in Friday’s 5-3 road

victory over the New York Islanders. “It’s nice to get some

results.”

The Maple Leafs, though, are still seven points back of the

division-leading Bruins and just a few points away from being

outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto will try to keep its momentum going on the road before

opening 2012 with nine of 10 at home.

“It’s going to be three tough games going to Florida, Carolina

and Winnipeg but it will be easier going in not on a losing

streak,” said coach Ron Wilson, who received a contract extension

from the club over the break.

The Maple Leafs, who lost 5-1 at home to the Panthers on Nov. 8

in the only meeting this season, have been outscored 10-1 while

dropping three straight as the road team in this series.

Reimer will likely make his fourth consecutive start and first

versus Florida after being sidelined for last month’s matchup.

Jonas Gustavsson allowed three goals and was replaced by

third-stringer Ben Scrivens to lose his third straight start

against the Panthers.

Florida’s Jose Theodore made 38 saves in the first meeting and

is 4-1-1 with a 1.65 GAA in his last six starts against Toronto.

Theodore, though, was pulled Friday after yielding four

first-period goals.

Backup Scott Clemmensen has a 1.75 career GAA versus the Leafs –

his lowest against any opponent he’s faced at least five times –

and was in net for a 4-0 win March 17 the last time Toronto visited

Sunrise.