Panthers, Maple Leafs try to reset seasons (Dec 28, 2016)

Panthers, Maple Leafs try to reset seasons (Dec 28, 2016)

Published Dec. 28, 2016 1:14 a.m. ET

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The puck bounced into the net after striking Jaromir Jagr in the butt.

That's the odd way in which Jagr made history last week, moving past Mark Messier and rising to No. 2 in the NHL's career points standings.

"I was dreaming of something else," Jagr told reporters that night. "I thought I was going to score a beautiful goal or make a beautiful assist."

But no, that's not how it happened. Instead, it was ugly -- just like the Panthers year.

Already this season, the Panthers (15-14-6) have suffered a serious injury to Jonathan Huberdeau that disrupted their top line. They have fired coached Gerard Gallant, and they have shuffled Dale Tallon from general manager to being kicked upstairs and then back to daily decision-making duties as GM.

On Wednesday night, the Panthers will play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs (14-12-7) in the first post-Christmas game of the season for either team.

Toronto and Florida are both in the bottom half of the Atlantic Division. The Panthers, who won the division last season, started this week in fifth place with 36 points. Toronto was next with 35.


Jagr and Aleksander Barkov, the top two members of Florida's No. 1 line, represent a threat to Toronto. But the Maple Leafs have an answer in center Nazem Kadri, who was challenged by Toronto's coaching staff a year ago to become a better defensive player.

Kadri has responded.

According to NHL analytics, Kadri, 26, ranks among the league's top 10 defensive forwards this season.

Kadri has shut down several high-profile forwards this season, including Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux and Connor McDavid.

That type of defensive effort is one reason the Leafs are plus-two in goals this season. And while that may not sound like much, Toronto hasn't finished on the plus-side of goals in 10 years.

"I like that," Leafs coach Mike Babcock told The Toronto Sun. "But I would like it even more when the goals-against are a lot lower. We have a lot of work to do.

"There's nothing we can do about our start (in terms of allowing too many goals), but we can continue to get better."

In other story lines:

--The Panthers will finish their five-game homestand on Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens.

--The first 10,000 fans who show up to attend Florida's Jan. 6 game against the Nashville Predators will get free Jagr T-shirts commemorating him moving past Messier on the points list.

--Jagr led the NHL with five assists last week and was voted the league's top star.

--As part of a video tribute after Jagr passed Messier, Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo drew laughs when he said Jagr would never have passed Messier without all the goals Luongo gave up to him along the way.

--Following games against the Panthers on Wednesday and at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, the Maple Leafs return to the cold weather with an outdoor New Year's Day game against the Detroit Red Wings at BMO Field.