Preview: Maple Leafs at Panthers
Auston Matthews looks to continue his offensive surge as the Toronto Maple Leafs make a quick trip to Florida in the middle of six home games to meet the Atlantic Division-rival Panthers on Sunday night. Matthews became the first United States-born player to score at least 30 times in each of his first four NHL seasons after registering two in Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Winnipeg while extending his point streak to six games (seven goals, four assists).
“I’m sure he’s focused more on the team aspect,” Toronto defenseman Travis Dermott told reporters of Matthews, who leads the Maple Leafs with 31 goals and 54 points. “But what comes from that is the opportunity to shine like that. There’s not many limits on what he can do. When he’s extra red hot, he can be dangerous with the puck or without. It will be exciting to see what he can do.” Toronto, which is 15-5-2 since Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as coach, will look to end a two-game slide while Florida tries to win back-to-back contests for the first time since late December. “They’re a very dangerous team,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville told reporters of the matchup with the Leafs, which has been won by the home team 10 straight times. “It’s one of those games you look at and it’s a big test for us. It’s one of the biggest games we’ve had to date.” Florida is three points behind third-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand after knocking off Vancouver 5-2 on Thursday to improve to 3-3-0 over its past six contests.
TIME: 7 p.m. ET. TV: NHL Network, FS Florida, TVA, Sportsnet
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (24-15-6): Right wing Mitch Marner has matched Matthews with at least a point in six straight games (one goal, six assists) and has collected 24 of his 42 in the past 15 contests. While captain John Tavares (16 goals, 36 points) has been kept off the scoresheet in three consecutive outings despite 10 shots, fellow forward Kasperi Kapanen boasts a four-game point streak (one goal, five assists). Goalie Frederik Andersen (21-8-5, 2.74 goals-against average, .914 save percentage) likely gets the call in net and is 9-3-2 with a .923 SP versus the Panthers.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (23-16-5): Noel Acciari continues his magical ride with two more goals Thursday, giving him 12 of his career-high 17 in the past dozen games, and Quenneville told reporters: “Pretty amazing what he’s achieved already. Forget about his production, he does all the things you want as a player, very efficient. Right wing Evgeni Dadonov leads the club with 19 goals, with five coming in five games this month and is third with 35 points. Sergei Bobrovsky (16-12-4, .896 SP) left practice Saturday with an undisclosed injury, which could mean backup Chris Driedger (4-2-0, .935) gets a shot in net Sunday.
1. Huberdeau leads the team with 59 points this season and is one from tying Olli Jokinen (419) for the career franchise record.
2. Toronto LW Andreas Johnsson (16 points), out since Dec. 4 with a leg injury, made the trip and could return as soon as Sunday.
3. Florida LW Mike Hoffman has scored in three straight contests and owns a five-game point streak (three goals, three assists).
PREDICTION: Maple Leafs 5, Panthers 3