The Florida Panthers play their first of four games this season against the Maple Leafs — and Toronto is taking them very seriously.
Although the Panthers are currently out of a playoff spot (four points behind Pittsburgh coming into the day) and have not had the success they did last season, Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe expects a battle tonight.
“Some things have changed, some things have remained the same,’’ Keefe told reporters Tuesday when asked about the Panthers.
“We just played against Boston — one of the top offensive teams in the league in many statistical categories. This team actually trends higher and better than they do. In that sense, offensively, they have been extremely dynamic. They make a lot of plays. Their defensemen are very involved in much of what they do. They are very good around the net. They’re great in transition.
All of those things have held true to last season as well. I haven’t watched closely or long enough over the course of the season to point out why it hasn’t worked out as well for him, but in terms of the respect we have for them as a team and as players, that is unchanged.”
Keefe went on to say the Panthers can make a team look bad even though the team has seemingly settled into playing a tough defensive game.
Florida is not looking to score six or seven goals against teams as it was last season, apparently content to get three or four.
The Panthers have won five of their past seven coming in but, since Jan. 1, have gone 0-3 against teams holding down a playoff spot.
A win against Toronto tonight would help the Panthers stay on track and also give them their first winning streak of the season.
Florida has beaten Vancouver and Buffalo in its past two games — but have lost all four times it was going for that elusive winning streak thus far.
The Panthers are also 1-4 in the second game of a back-to-back and have lost eight of the past nine against the Leafs in Toronto.
“They looked really good yesterday afternoon,’’ Keefe said. “I am sure they are coming in feeling good today.”
— The Leafs have lost their past two games but will bring Matt Murray back after he lost to the Bruins on Saturday night.
Florida will have Sergei Bobrovsky back in net after he made 28 saves in the 4-1 win against the Sabres on Monday.
There has been no official word on Alex Lyon returning to Charlotte, so we’ll pencil him in as the backup for now.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Draft Kings odds — Toronto favored: MoneyLine (-180); Puck line (-1.5, +145); Over/Under 6 (-115/-105)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Toronto leads 45-35-7, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday at Montreal, 7 p.m.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
15 Anton Lundell // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 9 Sam Bennett // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
14 Grigori Denisenko // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 21 Nick Cousins
94 Ryan Lomberg // 12 Eric Staal // 54 Givani Smith
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
34 Alex Lyon
Injured: Anthony Duclair (LTIR-Achilles), Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Spencer Knight (IR-undisclosed)
Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald, Chris Tierney, Colin White
Returned to Charlotte: Alex Lyon
PROJECTED TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
58 Michael Bunting // 34 Auston Matthews // 88 William Nylander
19 Calle Jarnkrok // 91 John Tavares // 16 Mitch Marner
74 Bobby McMann // 64 David Kampf // 47 Pierre Engvall
12 Zach Aston-Reese // 15 Alex Kerfoot // 20 Dryden Hunt
44 Morgan Rielly // 37 Timothy Liljegren
55 Mark Giordano // 3 Justin Holl
18 Jordie Benn // 25 Conor Timmins
30 Matt Murray
35 Ilya Samsonov