Panthers-Maple Leafs Preview


The Toronto Maple Leafs keep scraping out points as they manage to find themselves in a number of tight games recently. But there's room for improvement as the team continues to struggle in shootouts.

Nonetheless, they're certainly better off than the Florida Panthers, who own the league's worst record and are still sputtering as they prepare to conclude their season-long five-game road trip Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre.

The Maple Leafs (17-12-4) appear to be in a good position to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and end the NHL's longest playoff drought. They currently occupy the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, six points ahead of ninth place.

But they're also fresh off their third shootout loss in five games, blowing a 2-0 lead en route to a 3-2 defeat at Boston on Monday.

"We are coming out of the wrong end of it, but at the end of the day a point is a point," said Nazem Kadri, whose 35 points lead Toronto. "They add up a lot quicker than no points."

Toronto is 0-4 in shootouts this season. Coach Randy Carlyle said he was pleased to escape a home-and-home against the Bruins with three points after his club took a 3-2 home win on Saturday, but said he and his staff tries to help prepare their players for shootouts.

"We do work on it. We provide video of what the opposition likes to do," Carlyle said. "But it's an individual thing. It's one-on-one. Those are the things that all you can do is provide the information you think is important to the situation."

The Panthers (9-18-6) have lost eight of 10 and two in a row, totaling just one goal over the last two defeats. They were shut out for the fifth time this season, falling 3-0 to the Islanders on Sunday.

Florida averaged 2.5 goals in its first 23 games, but has been limited to 1.9 per game over its last 10 contests while scoring on just 6.4 percent of shots.

Tomas Kopecky and Jonathan Huberdeau are tied for the team lead with 12 goals each, though Kopecky has one goal over his last six games while Huberdeau has gone scoreless in eight straight.

"We have to find some production," coach Kevin Dineen told the team's official website. "We have to keep encouraging some of the plays that are creating chances, but we need some finish right now."

Toronto could use some more production from James van Riemsdyk, who hasn't registered a point in four straight games after recording seven in his previous eight contests. Van Riemsdyk's 22 points this season also rank as the third most for the Maple Leafs.

"He's been a great player for us but I think he's in a little bit of a dry spell for us right now," Carlyle said. "We need him to get his feet moving and start to create more."

Kadri is riding a five-game point streak with three goals and seven assists, while Phil Kessel has six points in his last five games against Florida.

The Panthers have won eight of 11 in the series, though Toronto claimed a 3-0 win in the season's first meeting on Feb. 18 in Sunrise. Ben Scrivens turned away all 37 of Florida's shots for his second shutout of the season while Kadri and Clarke MacArthur each tallied a goal and an assist.