The Maple Leafs have already been embarrassed on their home ice against the Panthers this season as Florida defeated Toronto 3-1 on Dec. 17. The Panthers are one of the five worst teams in the league and suffering a second straight loss to them this season would be a devastating way to close out January for the Maple Leafs.
One change for Toronto is Jonathan Bernier is likely to start after James Reimer was in net when the Panthers defeated the Maple Leafs in December. Bernier made 40 saves, including robbing Martin St. Louis with a tremendous glove save in the final minutes of a 3-2 Maple Leafs victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The win put Toronto within five points in the standings of the Lightning who currently sit second in the Atlantic Division. If the Maple Leafs hope to continue their climb in the standings they cannot afford to let points slip away to teams who sit near the bottom of the conference like Florida.
On top of trying to gain ground in the standings, this game also has to be about pride for the Maple Leafs. Toronto was badly beaten the last time the Panthers came to the Air Canada Centre, and the Maple Leafs must avenge that loss. If there was ever a time a team had extra motivation to play harder against a weaker opponent it should be because Toronto understands there’s no chance Florida can embarrass them a second time in just over a month. Considering Bernier will be starting, it’s obvious Toronto’s coaching staff understands how important this Panthers game is as Bernier has been the Maple Leafs’ better goaltender over the past month. Starting Reimer against a weak team like Florida could give the goaltender a chance to regain his form after struggling lately, however, it’s clear the team is far more concerned about picking up two points than anything else.
This is a significant game the Maple Leafs cannot afford to lose not just because it’ll have a big impact in the standings; it’s also about righting a previous wrong.