TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (21-10-1) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS (11-13-6)
GAME TIME: 7:00 P.M.
GAME DAY VIDEO: Countin’ On A Miracle
Let’s get this out of the way right from the start. He’s not the Messiah. Don’t make him out to be, and don’t put that kind of pressure on him. Yes, Henrik Borgstrom will finally make his “season” debut for the Florida Panthers, but he’s not the answer to all their problems. The Panthers do hope he can solve a few. We’re not going to rehash why he wasn’t in the opening night lineup. Why he was sent to Springfield after training camp was finished. Or why he wasn’t the first call up when Vincent Trocheck went down with an ankle injury. Which has clearly put a severe damper on what was to be a promising season.
The top prospect in the Florida Panthers system has 22 points in 24 games this season (5 goals). He can make plays, and he can finish plays. He is talented, skilled, and has an extremely bright future. But he can only contribute to part of the woes that are currently afflicting the Panthers. Borgstrom cannot play center, defence, and goaltender. He can help and should have a role on the top 6. Playing on the third or fourth line isn’t where the Panthers will get the best results from him or for them. The Panthers need help with even strength scoring. With depth scoring, and scoring from anyone other than the regular guys (re: the main 4 scorers). That’s where Henrik can help either by making that timely pass that leads to a goal, or taking a shot that gets past the opposing netminder for one. But he cannot play defence, and will not be in goal. Those are the two areas that the Panthers are suffering from the most.
Jayce Hawrlyuk a second round draft pick in 2014 will also make his debut. This will be the NHL debut for the skilled forward who likely gets slotted into a third line or more likely for tonight a 4th line role. Jayce has 28 points (7 goals) in 25 games, earning himself a call up to the big time. Again, he’s not the savior either, but what the Panthers are hoping for is that by injecting some youth into their lineup, they can get some energy and excitement into their game. They certainly need it.
Both the Leafs and Panthers are coming off games that have them frustrated, disappointed, and wanting answers. The Leafs tossed 49 shots at Andrei Vasilevsky Thursday night in Tampa, scoring only once. The were 0- 6 on the power play in that game, and are 1-2-0 on their current road trip. The Leafs may have some of their own energy injected into their lineup as Zach Hyman (remember him?) returns after serving a two game suspension for a hit on Boston Bruin defenceman Charlie McAvoy.
Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Patrick Marleau and Morgan Reilly. These are the players that drive the Leafs. Goaltender Frederik Anderson is 17-9-0 with a 2.50 GAA and a .925 save percentage in 26 games for Toronto. He’s expected to start.
The Panthers are expected to start Roberto Luongo. The Panthers are hemorrhaging on defence. A problem that existed last season, was temporarily fixed, and has now reared it’s ugly head once again. Luongo’s record on the season is 5-5-1 and his GAA is 3.04 and his save precentage is .904. Not at all near his career numbers, yet he can’t be faulted for all the problems. The Panthers have given up 110 goals this season already. Only 5 other teams have given up more. That won’t get you into the playoffs.
Many are wondering where are the defensive reinforcements? Why not give Jacob MacDonald an opportunity? Is Ian McCoshen ready for another look? Why is Bogdan Kiselevich in and out of the lineup when he appears to be one of the more consistent defenders. Meaning he plays good defence. Alex Petrovic expressed himself recently that he’s not happy with his playing time. Yet his play seems to be dictating the amount of time he gets. While Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad have had their ‘moments” on defence, they at least are driving offensive play, but…….they both need to be better defensively, and they know it. Mike Matheson has been flashing his speed and his offensive talents, but……he’s also been a bit of a defensive liability. He’s turned the puck over 53 times. Many of which are likely a result of attempting to create offence.
The struggles on defence have been noted by the players and the coaching staff. And by the media and fan base ad nauseam. It appears for right now, the 7 defencemen that are currently with the team are the ones that have been assigned the task of getting it right. 5 of the 7 defencemen are essentially of the same mold. Offence first, defence second. Therein lies the issue. The Panthers want their defencemen to participate in offence, and move the puck ahead and be creative in their play. That’s all well and good, but this style is creating too many chances for the opposition, and causing the Panthers to “chase” the game.
Another problem, or thing to consider is, and this ideally could be another article in itself, is the inexperience of the defence. Experts say that an NHL defenceman needs at least 300 NHL games before he hits his stride. Keith Yandle has 855 and Aaron Ekblad have 339. We know what we have in those 2. However Mark Pysyk has played 309, Alexander Petrovic has played 250, Mike Matheson has played 193 and MacKenzie Weegar has played 90. Bogdan Kiselevich has played 22 NHL games. Although he played 393 in the KHL, there is an adjustment period that he needs to transition to. All that said, half of the defensive core has not seen what the experts call the “right amount” of games. Is this also part of the issue? That the players have not completed their maturation process?
Tonight’s game is a big test for the Panthers. Mind you winning tonight won’t solve all these issues and shouldn’t make anyone breathe a sigh of relief that the problems have been fixed. They will need to prove it game after game the rest of the way. However, with a difficult schedule for the rest of December, a loss may mean more changes coming.
See you tonight. Get your popcorn.
Thanks for reading.
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