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GameDay Caterwaul: Florida Panthers vs Toronto Maple Leafs

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Season series between Cats and Buds finally starts tonight

Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Panthers (23-16-5 51P) vs Maple Leafs (24-15-6 54P)

  • WHEN: 7:00 p.m. ET
  • WHERE: BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL
  • ON THE TUBE: NHL Network, FOX Sports Florida, TVAS, Sportsnet
  • ON THE DIAL: 99.9 FM (D/B), 850 WFTL (PB), 1370 WAXE (TC), Thunder 100.3 (Keys)
  • SOCIALS: #FlaPanthers, #LeafsForever, #TMLvsFLA, @LitterBoxCats, LBC FaceBook
  • ENEMY INTEL: Pension Plan Puppets
  • FLA IN SEASON SERIES: Game 1 of 4
  • LAST MEETING: @TOR 7, FLA 5 (Recap) - 3/25/2019
  • NEXT MEETING: February 3, 2020
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Bobrovsky (16-12-4 .896/ 3.29 1SO) vs Andersen (21-8-5 .914/ 2.74 1SO)
  • PLAYER STATS: Florida / Toronto

Scouting Report (courtesy of Field Level Media)

All-Star Jonathan Huberdeau is skating on the precipice of Florida Panthers’ history, and the forward’s numbers indicate that he has a good chance to write his name into the record book on Sunday.

Florida hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday in the first of four meetings between the Atlantic Division rivals. The Panthers are just three points behind third-place Toronto with one game in hand.

Huberdeau’s play through 44 games has been nothing short of fantastic, earning him an appearance in the All-Star Game in St. Louis later this month.

The playmaker on Florida’s first line that features captain Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov, Huberdeau has recorded 59 points in 44 games -- 42 of the points via assists -- and his average of 1.34 points per game puts him on pace for a career-high 109-point season.

Huberdeau entered the Panthers’ 5-2 win over Vancouver on Thursday just three points from tying Olli Jokinen for the franchise record in points (419), and he assisted on goals by Dadonov and Mike Hoffman to push his assist record to a franchise-high 276. His work on Hoffman’s power-play goal was a season highlight for the 26-year-old Huberdeau.

The Quebec native skated in from the left, faked Vancouver’s Christopher Tanev so deftly that the defenseman simply fell over, and then whizzed a pass through the slot to Hoffman, whose one-timer beat goalie Thatcher Demko.

Florida coach Joel Quenneville is getting to know his players in his first season behind the Panthers’ bench, and he has an expression for standout moves, calling them “wow plays.”

”We talk about the ‘wow factor’ and that was a ‘wow wow.’ Pretty amazing patience and play recognition,” Quenneville said.

Noel Acciari scored twice, giving him 12 goals in his last 12 games to push his season total to 17. He had 18 in 180 NHL games before joining Florida when free agency opened last July.

Despite losing 4-3 in a shootout to Winnipeg on Wednesday, Toronto is streaking through a 9-1-2 run in its last 12 games and is playing some of its best hockey under new coach Sheldon Keefe.

Toronto is 15-5-2 in the seven weeks since Keefe took over for the fired Mike Babcock, and the club is playing the kind of high-flying, goal-scoring offense that many expected prior to the season.

Much of the credit goes to the standout play of Auston Matthews.

He scored twice, including the game-tying goal with 14 seconds left, to help Toronto secure a point in the loss. He became the first Maple Leafs player to score 30 goals in each of his first four seasons.

Matthews, 22, has netted 40, 34, 37 and 31 goals in his first four seasons and has scored goals in each of his last seven home games, which is tied for the longest streak this season.

”I think a big part of that is just getting in a rhythm,” Matthews said. “The last two years, I was dealing with injuries and stuff like that. So far, I’ve been pretty healthy. If you’re constantly healthy and staying in a rhythm, it helps quite a bit.”

Sunday in the Atlantic (Standings/Panthers Playoff Chances):

  • BUFFALO (19-19-7 45P) at DETROIT (12-30-3 35P) 5 p.m. ESPN+
  • TAMPA BAY (27-13-4 58P) at New Jersey (16-21-7 39P) 5 p.m.

Idle: BOS (65P), MON (45P) OTT (39P)

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