The Toronto Maple Leafs are finally playing the type of hockey that allows them to beat any given team on any given night. After big wins against division rivals in the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning all in the month of January, the Buds will look to close out the beginning of the new year with a win against a Florida Panthers team they seem to have trouble with from time to time.
The Panthers have beaten the Leafs six times out of their past 10 meetings, and it always seems to come in an untimely fashion for the boys in blue. The Leafs can’t afford to give up points to inferior teams such as the Panthers as they currently find themselves in a very tight race for a playoff spot in the NHL‘s Eastern Conference.
The Leafs are well aware of their sudden woes against the Panthers as they were beaten handedly at home by the team from South Beach back in December. The key to victory this time around for the Leafs will be making sure that they shutdown the likes of Brad Boyes and Aleksander Barkov of the Panthers. The two forwards are having solid seasons and currently lead the Panthers in points.
A major hiccup that the Leafs desperately need to try and fix is the fact that they are still being outshot on what seems to be a nightly basis. The defense has been solid over the past few games, but they need to be more consistent in front of Jonathan Bernier in order to give their team a chance to win. With the great play from the Leafs’ top line in Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, the Leafs will always have a chance to win just as long as their shots against total are somehow held in check.
The Leafs will also look to Nazem Kadri to continue his hot streak in which he has managed to slowly but surely silence his many critics over the past few games. This is a game where players like Kadri, who may not be top line players, must step up so the Leafs don’t let two points slip out of their grasp. They are far more talented than the Panthers, and this is the point in the season where you have to beat the teams you are clearly better than. The more points that get away in games such as these, the less of a chance you are going to have to make up ground against the big boys. The Leafs know this and will come out on top tonight at the ACC in Toronto.