Game Day: Trying Not To Get Caged By Panthers
It feels like the entire city hit the reset button this morning.
The clouds have rolled in overhead. Traffic wasn't so bad. And we have a new mayor. (Congratulations to you, Rob Ford! You terrify about 90 per cent of my friends and 99 per cent of the people I follow on Twitter. If nothing else, the next four years should be memorable.)
As for the city's hockey squad, well, hopefully they will also hit the reset.
When the Panthers prowl into the ACC, they will bring a defensive focus, team discipline and captain Bryan McCabe who, depending on your perspective, was either a great Leaf defenceman or a symptom of blue-and-white disease.
Florida clogs the neutral zone the way one of these clogs human arteries. They trap and lull their opponents into extended on-ice naps. The team has given up a stingy 2 goals per game in their first half-dozen games, which is third best in the league.
Last season, Toronto and Florida split their 4 games. But in the Panther's two wins, the Leafs were shutout in one game (Jan. 23) and held to 1 goal in the other (March 23).
If Toronto is hoping to get its power play on track, they may not get many chances tonight. After six games, the Panthers are the NHL's least penalized team with a measly 33 minutes. (To put this in perspective: Colton Orr and Mike Brown have combined for more penalty minutes than the entire Florida team.)
As mentioned yesterday, it's early. There's no reason to panic. But this is one of those games the Leafs really need to win. If they do, their record improves to 5-2-1, which translates into a .688 winning percentage. If they lose, as commenter Moe Green noted a while back, we are suddenly cheering for a .500 team.
So what are the keys to victory tonight?