SUNRISE FL - NOVEMBER 10: Christopher Higgins #21 of the Florida Panthers and Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs fight for control of the puck on November 10 2010 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise Florida. The Panthers defeated the Maple Leafs 4-1. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Season Series: 1-1-0
The Panthers are back at work tonight, along with most of the rest of the league. The Panthers' second visit to Toronto this season is one of 11 games scheduled for tonight. The home team has won the two previous meetings, but the Panthers hope to come out strong for the next batch of games and win this road game. The team is still 8 points of the final Eastern Conference playoff berth and still holding on to an ever fainter hope of closing that gap. The Panthers stayed competitive in many of January's games but let too many of them slip away. The team has 3 road games this week and 13 left before the NHL's trade deadline on February 28. Given the team's position in the standings and the number of expiring contracts he's holding, it goes without saying that General Manager Dale Tallon will be watching the team closely the next four weeks.
The bad news is that Shawn Matthias, hurt in Boston in the last game before the All-Star Break, will be out 6 to 8 weeks. This means at best, he'll be back two weeks after the trade deadline and at worst he'll be back for the last 7 or so games. Struggling winger Michael Frolik was moved to center Steve Bernier and Darcy Hordichuk on the fourth line at yesterday's practice, but the team called up center Scott Timmins this morning to replace Matthias. Presumably this means Rostislav Olesz is back on the second line with David Booth and Michael Santorelli and that one of yesterday's fourth line trio are sitting tonight.
This is the first NHL call-up for Timmins, Florida's 6th round pick in 2009. He played two seasons for Pete DeBoer's Kitchener Rangers as well as a couple of seasons for the Windsor Spitfires, both of the OHL. He has 10 goals, 12 assists and 16 penalty minutes in 44 games for Rochester and, at +11, is only of the only Amerks players to have a positive plus-minus rating.
Two players in tonight's game featured in the All-Star Weekend. Toronto forward Phil Kessel was "Mr. Irrelevant," picked last in the fantasy draft. For his trouble, he received a car and $20,000 to the charity of his choice. He was held scoreless in the actual game. Panthers forward Evgeni Dadonov was one of the rookies featured in the skills competition. Dadonov was featured in the breakaway competition, in which he was one of the few forwards to actually score on one of his trick shots but was one of the many turned away by the goalies in the shootout challenge.
Scott Clemmensen will be the starting goaltender, presumably so Tomas Vokoun will be fresh for tomorrow night's game in Montreal. Expect to see him start that game and Friday's game in New Jersey. Unfortunately, Captain Bryan McCabe is still out with a broken jaw for several weeks. He has 3 goals and 3 assists in 5 games in Toronto against his former team. However, he may be back for the final game against the Maple Leafs on March 17 in Florida. Tonight, look for the team to start off slow the first period, as they always do after a rest. Provided they don't make any huge gaffes and allow the Leafs to run up the score in the first, this is a winnable game provided someone can actually hit the back of the net for a change.
More from our Toronto cohorts at Pension Plan Puppets
Panthers vs Maple Leafs coverage at SBNation.com
UPDATE: According to George Richards, it is Steve Bernier sitting in the press box tonight.