The Toronto Maple Leafs are in Florida for a stop at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on Sunday night. It’s a quirky road game, as the Maple Leafs have played their last three games at home, and then will fly home for three more games at Scotiabank Arena before the All-Star break. The Maple Leafs are coming off a 4-3 loss against the Winnipeg Jets in a shootout, as they were able to salvage a point with a late strike by Auston Matthews. Matthews has been threading the needle this season with a flick of the wrist. He’s been one of the most dangerous players in the NHL when he has the puck on his stick. Matthews is always a threat to score from anywhere on the ice.
The 22-year-old centreman heads into Sunrise with 31 goals and 23 assists for 54 points to lead the Maple Leafs. He trails only David Pastrank of the Bruins, and Pastrank has slowed down a bit following a blazing hot opening stanza in the 2019-20 campaign. The Maple Leafs have needed all of the goals they can get this season, with their defence continuing to have leaks on the blueline. You can blame Frederik Andersen all you want, but people have short memories.
Andersen has kept the Leafs in several games this season despite getting pummeled with shot after shot in net. Put him on a good defence and watch his numbers skyrocket. With that in mind, the Leafs will have to somehow figure it out in their defensive zone, Andersen plays out of his mind, or it’s going to be the same old in the playoffs.
Offensive playmakers dominate in this era of the NHL, but a little effort defensively is needed in the spring to make serious noise. It doesn’t have to be perfect, either. Offensively, the Leafs are good enough to not have to worry about playing perfect defensively. Whereas a team like the Coyotes, for instance, don’t have much room for error on their blueline.
The playoffs in the NHL can be a crapshoot, but I’m going to stick with the Panthers as my sleeper team. Last year it was the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes who took the league by storm in the playoffs, and I think the Panthers have the potential to win a series or two against a higher seed. Really what it comes down to is whether Sergei Bobrovsky is going to wake up and earn his pay. His status for Sunday isn’t clear after suffering a mystery injury against the Canucks in a 5-2 win. If he is unable to play, rookie Chris Driedger will get the starting nod. Head below for our free Maple Leafs vs. Panthers pick.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Florida Panthers Betting Odds:
Maple Leafs vs. Panthers Prediction:
The Maple Leafs enter Sunday with a record of 24-15-6 and 54 points in the Atlantic Division. With the Lightning heating up at the moment, the Leafs have it tough behind the Bolts and Bruins. The Bruins have been in the lead for the duration of the season with 65 points. Tampa could really make this interesting down the stretch, though.
It took them a minute, but they’ve been on fire recently and have pulled within 7 points of the Bruins. The Bruins have been put on notice, as their season has pulled up after a terrific start. Meanwhile, the Panthers are hanging in there at 23-16-5 and 51 points. They’re going to need the goaltending to be better if they’re going to be taken seriously. Joel Quenneville has done an excellent job with this season, but it’s up to them to show effort in the defensive zone.
The Senators and Red Wings are the only teams in the Atlantic Division who’ve allowed more goals than the Panthers this season. On the season, the Panthers have allowed 3.3 goals per game for 26th in the NHL. They’re the only team in that neighbourhood who are getting beaten that much in their defensive zone and still a legitimate threat.
I don’t think we can include the Nashville Predators as a threat at the moment. We’ll see how they handle the second-half, though. Bobrovsky owns a 3.29 GAA and 0.896 save percentage for the Panthers this season. That’s certainly not what the Panthers envisioned when they signed the most sought-after goaltender goaltender on the market in the summer.
Driedger has posted some attractive numbers with a 2.16 GAA and 0.935 save percentage. However, he’s only started six games, so let’s see what his numbers are like after a healthy sample size. Driedger had a rough showing in his most recent, as he was hit for 4 goals on 36 shots against the Arizona Coyotes.
He also had a poor showing against the Red Wings on December 28th, as Driedger allowed 4 goals on 39 shots. The defence is certainly to blame for what’s happening as well. Driedger must find out a way to cool down a Maple Leafs’ offence who’ve lit the net on fire for 4.7 goals per game in their last ten outings.
However, keep in mind that the Leafs’ offence has had to carry the load. While they’ve scored 4.7 goals per game, they’ve also yielded 3.2 goals per game during that ten-game stretch. The Panthers are fully capable of scoring the puck. Florida are 4th in the NHL with 3.52 goals per game on the season, just a hair behind the Maple Leafs who’re 3rd with 3.58 per game.
The Panthers get better at home offensively, having scored 3.79 goals per game, though their defence regresses at home to 3.5 goals against. The OVER has gone 4-1 in their previous five meetings, with an average of 7.4 goals scored. Don’t expect a 7-5 game like in their most recent meeting, but we should see a 4-3 or 5-3 final in Sunrise on Sunday night in a matchup featuring two dynamic offences.