Leafs Out to Slow Panthers
It's unlikely the Florida Panthers will blow the doors off the Leafs tonight with a powerful offensive display.
On the other hand, it's very possible the Panthers might out-hustle the home team and skate the Leafs into the ice.
So the challenge for Ron Wilson's club has to be to get its intensity level back to where it was eight days ago against the New York Islanders. So far this season, the Panthers and Islanders have arguably been the hardest working clubs in the league, so it's not like the Leafs should be caught off guard.
The focus over the past few days has been on the shuffling of the Leafs' top two lines, a shuffle that was probably overdue. Certainly Tyler Bozak needs to demonstrate tonight he can start producing, or his time with the parent club could be shorter than anyone anticipated.
While there have been calls to promote Nazem Kadri, the most logical person to get a chance if Bozak fails should be John Mitchell. Yes, Mitchell had a weak camp, but giving him one game in a fourth line role hardly offers him an opportunity to show what he can do given that he's a finesse player, not a checker.
But Bozak stays put for tonight, while Mitchell heads back to the press box along with Carl Gunnarson, while Mike Zigomanis and Brett Lebda draw back in.
Despite the focus on the lines, however, the player whose response to Saturday's ugly defeat in Philly will be defenceman and captain Dion Phaneuf.
Phaneuf did indeed have a bad game. But up to then, he was rock solid in six previous games, and given the ups and downs he experienced in Calgary before being traded last season, that's what he needs to be right now in Toronto. Rock solid, not flashy or spectacular. If he tries to play a game that will make his critics believe he's worth his $6.5 million salary, he's doomed to failure, or doomed to suffer the same fate as Bryan McCabe, who coincidentally will be on the opposing bench tonight. Phaneuf has got to be solid in his own end and physical, and the offence will come later.
Phaneuf's response tonight, however, could be to try to do more, to create and be aggressive, and that's where he could get in trouble against a speedy, counter-attacking Florida team.
I could count the number of important Toronto-Florida games over the years on, well, I can't think of a single important Leaf-Panther game ever. This one is hardly crucial, but the Panthers deserve a better record than they have, and the Leafs want to get back ahead of Montreal for first in the division. So there's something on the line.