LGD: Heading South

As the Maple Leafs head south for their annual winter snowbird tour, we get to see a Florida Panthers team that sits at the top of the standings and may look pretty similar to what fans in Toronto hope the Leafs will resemble in a few years. Barkov as the young stud center every team wants (Nylander), Huberdeau as the ultra-talented winger that does things with the puck that most can’t (Marner), Bjugstad as the undervalued secondary center (Kadri), Brian Campbell as the useful but overpaid veteran defender (Phaneuf) and Jagr as the grizzled old veteran (a 46-year-old Jaromir Jagr playing on a competitive Leafs team a few years from now would be wonderful wouldn’t it?). Now all we need is a 19-year old franchise defenceman and an all-world goalie. Those are the easy pieces, right? 

The Panthers were supposed to be improved this year but not many expected them to be at the top of the Atlantic Division standings as we near the All-Star break. Led by a core of young talent, tonight’s game should give Leaf fans a chance to dream up a brighter future.

But, if nothing else, it’s a valuable chance for us to take in the Sasha Barkov show.

The Leafs

The Leafs start the road trip on a two-game losing streak and having lost seven of their past 10 games. Just two points up on Columbus for last in the Eastern Conference, the Leafs season has been going exactly as the front office had scripted. Playing competitive hockey, showing growth under an exceptional coach, but still losing enough games to remain in the Auston Matthews conversation. 

With reports yesterday that the selling season may be upon us, it’s time to focus on inflating the value of guys like Polak, Matthias and Parenteau in the hopes of maximizing the return. 

Lineup via DailyFaceoff

leaflines

The Panthers

A day after announcing a six-year extension with their franchise centerman, the Panthers hope to win their third game in a row and increase their lead in the division. As mentioned, any chance you get to watch Sasha Barkov, you need to take it. He’s one of the most exciting young players in the league and at $5.9 million a year he’s likely to be one of the most underpaid (Non-ELC) players as soon as the contract kicks in next season. 

A perfect combination of youth and experience, head coach Gerard Gallant has the Panthers playing incredibly well and poised to be a real contender in the eastern conference playoff race.

Lineup Via DailyFaceoff

panthers lines

The Goalies

With the report from James Mirtle yesterday that the Leafs may be shopping Jonathan Bernier, coach Mike Babcock will continue to staple him to the bench as long as James Reimer is playing as well as he has been of late. With an amazing .947 SV% on the road, Reimer will likely have to keep his team in the game in the hopes of stealing a 2-1 game. When healthy, he’s been one of the Leafs’ true bright spots and is likely hoping his lower body can hold out long enough to cash in with a new contract (thank you Cam Talbot).

Not only is he one of the best follows on Twitter, Roberto Luongo is back to being one of the best goalies in the NHL. Giving up only two goals a game at home and sporting a .930 SV% on the season, Luongo has been a huge part of the Panthers success this year. He’s been a Leaf killer in the past as he’s won 18 of his 25 matchups against Toronto over his career. 

The Reimer vs Luongo means two of the hottest goalies in the league against two teams that have been known to struggle offensively at times. All signs tell you to take the under in this game, which means we’ll likely end up with a 6-5 shootout victory.

  • Gary Empey

    What is Justin’s prediction for this game. Just joking Justin. Don’t post it.

    Will the Leafs play “rope a dope” again, for the first 10 minute to see if they can tire the Panther’s shooting arms out?

  • Gary Empey

    Goes to show with the watered down diluted N.H.L. that all you just basically need is a young stud defenceman such as Ekblad, a rising star first line center which Barkov truly is. Some grizzled veterans including a relaxed old goalie playing in a town where he isn’t under the microscope 24/7 and presto you are the number one team in the east.

    The leaf players perhaps could have showed a little more effort seeing their fathers who helped get them to the N.H.L. were there. Way to go guys.

    However the tank is on big time and obviously old Lou will soon be wheeling and dealing. The leafs are fortunate in that so many teams likely even at the trading dead line will be close to the playoffs and thus will either stand pat or will be buyers. That being the case, the leafs and a couple other teams will have most of the market for teams to buy the likes of Parenteau and Polak. If the leafs could get a first round pick for the pylon Franson , they should be able to get another first round pick as teams begin to panic. Some of the clubs will be hit by the injury bug and thus will necessitate them getting into the bidding war for a Toronto cast off.

    As I’ve said before, sure some nights are painful but if you are a fan of Toronto sports teams, well you got the Raptors in second place and on a 9 game winning streak and Josh, Russel, Marcus will be soon reporting to the python and alligator infested swamp land of Florida.

    The big day in 2016 for leaf fans is only 145 days away when a very talented 18 year old will be pulling on a leaf jersey.

  • SEER

    II think the reason we really lost and played so poorly.. and why Florida is doing so good this season…, is that photo you have on your article here, Tom.. (by the way, loved your Country music show in the 60’s-70’s.. : ) LOL!

    I think those green, circular discs “pretending” to be outdoor lighting are really…

    … UFO’s..!!! : O

    The Panthers are cheating, with E.T. help.. LOL!