Preview: As they try to get back on track, Panthers face tall task against visiting Maple Leafs
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
The Leafs were routed 4-1 on Thursday by the host Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Panthers were thrashed that same night 5-1 by the host Minnesota Wild.
The Panthers (11-13-6) seemed particularly upset with their performance on Thursday as well as their overall play this season.
“We were a few mistakes from being in the game,” said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, whose team is in last place in the Atlantic Division with 28 points. “I don’t know what needs to change. But we will figure it out at some point — we need to.”
Panthers coach Bob Boughner called out his best player, Aleksander Barkov, who centers Florida’s top line and is the team captain.
“I thought Barkov’s line looked slow all game,” Boughner said. “They looked like they had heavy legs. Sometimes you want them to play through it and figure it out — but they never did.”
Meanwhile, the Leafs, who are 1-2-0 on this road trip, seemed more frustrated than disappointed by their play on Thursday. They were stymied by Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy — who made 48 saves — but they were pleased with their play overall.
The Leafs (21-10-1) went 0-for-6 on the power play, for example, despite creating some good chances.
“Close doesn’t cut it in this league,” said Leafs center John Tavares, whose team is second in the Atlantic Division with 43 points. “We did a lot of good things, but we have to find a way to put more than one puck into the back of the net.”
Perhaps the Leafs will get a lift on Saturday when left winger Zach Hyman is expected to return to face the Panthers after he served a two-game NHL suspension for his hit on Boston Bruins defenseman Charles McAvoy.
“The play is out there (on video), and everybody can interpret it the way they want,” Hyman told The Toronto Sun. “It’s the first time I’ve gone through that (league suspension). Hopefully, I never have to go through it again.
“I play hard. I play the way I play. I’m doing my job. … I’m just getting ready for Saturday.”
The Panthers, after losing with backup goalie James Reimer on Thursday, are expected to go back to starter Roberto Luongo on Saturday. Reimer is 5-7-3 with a 3.47 goals-against average (GAA) and an .889 save percentage. Luongo is 5-5-1 with a 3.04 GAA and a .904 save percentage.
Tavares leads the Leafs with 19 goals and is second with 33 points. Right winger Mitch Marner leads Toronto with 35 assists and with 41 points. Center Auston Matthews has 16 goals and 11 assists in just 18 games and leads Toronto with six power-play scores.
Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly leads the power play in assists with 11 and is the team’s third-leading scorer overall with 33 points. Toronto’s top defensive defenseman is Nikita Zaitsev, who has a team-high 73 blocks and is second on the team with 53 hits.
Florida’s power-play quarterback is Keith Yandle, who leads the team with 15 power-play assists. He has 28 points, tops among Panthers defensemen.