It's been quite awhile since the Panthers enjoyed a four-game winning streak, and they'll attempt to do just that while facing off against the Toronto Maple Leafs this evening. The Cats are coming off of a solid 2-1 team victory against the Montreal Canadiens, playing what might have been their most complete game of the season. The Panthers managed to turn in a very complete effort, but lost defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a lower body injury during the game. Gudbranson was not placed on IR and could suit up for the Cats tonight. Early reports were indicating that he suffered a laceration from a skate blade but that report has not been confirmed by the club.
The Leafs started this season quite strong but have fallen off mightily as of late, going 3-6-1 in their last ten games and struggling to keep the puck out of the net. This is still a team that the Panthers can't take lightly, as they have some solid scorers in James van Riemsdyk , Joffrey Lupul (recently off IR), Nazem Kadri and the ever-present Phil Kessel . Florida will have to continue to play a very disciplined defensive game to keep the scoring depth of the Leafs' top two lines in check, and if Scott Clemmensen does indeed get the start, he'll have to rely on the guys in front of him to keep clearing the puck and blocking shots as well as the Cats did against the Habs. The Leafs are fresh off a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but posted a 7-3 rout of the Chicago Blackhawks in their last home game, and will pressure Florida from the first face-off.
Check back throughout the day; we'll provide updates regarding Gudbranson's status for tonight's tilt, as well as Jonathan Huberdeau, who missed last game due to a swollen/bruised foot, and as always, join us for the game tonight in the fuller-than-Club-Red LBC GameThread.
For more on tonight's game, and the ever-enjoyable Toronto perspective, check in with our frozen buddies at Pension Plan Puppets.
UPDATES: Jesse Winchester is out after suffering a hand injury in the last game; Clemmensen to start; Gudbranson (probable) and Huberdeau (questionable) skated with the team this morning, as did Tim Thomas.
Players to Watch:
- Joffrey Lupul: After missing a good chunk of games due to a groin injury, Lupul came back with a bang against Chicago, scoring two and adding two helpers. When healthy he's a serious offensive threat for the Leafs and gives them a solid complimentary scoring winger opposite Kessel. Florida will have to pay just as much attention to him as they will Kessel as Lupul tends to fly under the radar a bit more. If Florida can play a clean, physical game against him, they should be able to hold him in check, especially because he's still getting back into game shape after his long injury layoff.
- Scott Clemmensen: He wasn't tested dramatically in the Montreal game, but he's only allowed three goals in the last two games despite facing 66 shots (not counting the ridiculous shootout stretch against the Capitals). He's playing well but it's worth noting that the guys in front of him are laying down to block shots, skating hard and doing the dirty work to help keep the pressure off of their backup netminder. Still, Clemmensen's posted two wins in a row, something he hasn't done in a long time, and the Panthers need him to continue to be sharp while awaiting the return of a healthy Tim Thomas.
- Mason Raymond - What looked to be a depth signing for the Leafs turned out to be much more, as Raymond has stepped into top minutes in Toronto and responded with 24 points in 35 games. He does the dirty work and is solid on the forecheck, and is yet another player with a nose for the net that the Panthers will have to keep tabs on.
- Sean Bergenheim - Bergenheim is starting to return to form. He's only posted a single point in December (a goal against Detroit), but his tenacity on the forecheck and backcheck has led to quite a few possession changes for the Panthers, and his play along the boards has helped the Cats play the style of puck possession game they need to play to be successful. It's only a matter of time before he's rewarded again for his hard work and it wouldn't be shocking to see him produce some points against the Leafs.