The Toronto Maple Leafs hope that their first home game in more than two weeks will mean a return to winning when they host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
The Maple Leafs defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 the last time they played in Toronto — on Nov. 11.
In four games since, they defeated the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild in the Global Series in Stockholm, then lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime on Friday and fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday — both true road games.
“We’ve got some tough games ahead, no doubt, starting with (Florida),” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We’ll focus on that, but I think the guys are excited to be spending time in their own bed and playing in front of our fans. It’s one thing to be excited about it, it’s another thing to get out and perform.”
Florida opened a three-game road trip Monday with a 5-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators. The Panthers dropped their previous two contests, to the Boston Bruins and Winnipeg Jets, both in Sunrise, Fla.
“I don’t look at the last two losses as connected,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “We played a heck of a game against Boston. We were awful against Winnipeg. They were good and deserved to win. We want to make sure our last game was the one of 20. Hopefully, you keep it to two a year like that and we go back to playing the game that we played prior to the Winnipeg game.”
Tuesday marks the beginning of a three-game homestand for the Maple Leafs.
“The routine is something we’re excited to get back into,” Keefe said. “Our game (in) Pittsburgh was the first time in a while where it felt like a regular game-day routine for us.”
Toronto’s Mitchell Marner will try to regain his scoring touch. He has no goals and three assists in his past seven games. He had consecutive four-point games on Nov. 4 and Nov. 6, the final two games before his slump.
“Not getting the puck with a whole lot of speed and getting myself moving,” Marner said. “Not really trusting my abilities out there. That’s something that needs to change.”
Linemate Auston Matthews has two points in his past six games, a goal and an assist in a 4-3 overtime win against the Wild in Sweden.
Keefe changed some lines Monday at practice. Marner played on a line with John Tavares and Tyler Bertuzzi, while William Nylander was with Matthews and Matthew Knies. The new lines are expected to be used Tuesday.
“It’s a chance to reset,” Keefe said. “We’ve been talking a lot about that group, but there has been great reluctance on my part to make a change to the Tavares group, and with (Nylander) in particular, who really found a nice groove and his game has been going so well.
“You don’t want to affect guys who are rolling and feeling good in order to boost other groups. But I think the time is right. ”
Nylander did not record a point in Chicago and Pittsburgh after starting the season on a 17-game point streak.
The Panthers will hope to build on their impressive — and feisty — win at Ottawa. Sam Reinhart scored twice for Florida, and Sam Bennett notched a goal and an assist. Sergei Bobrovsky made 20 saves to earn his second shutout of the season and the 40th of his career.
There were 12 misconducts handed out late in the third period after Ottawa’s Zack MacEwen was issued a match penalty early in the period.
“Just a hockey game,” Maurice said. “You can’t play light in the game. Both teams want to win. You get a little snarly. That was fun. It’s good.”
There 167 total penalty minutes overall in the game.
“That was mild,” Maurice quipped. “We only got to about 160-some minutes there. It’s got to get into the 250s before it gets too squirrely.”
–Field Level Media