Leafs prepping for battle, not taking meeting with Panthers lightly

After losing two in a row on the road, the Toronto Maple Leafs hope to regain their winning form Tuesday night at home when they play the Florida Panthers.

The Maple Leafs lost to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday before falling to the Boston Bruins on Saturday and have a healthy respect for the Panthers, who have struggled at times this season.

The Panthers appear to be finding their way after opening a three-game road trip with a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.

“They are Presidents’ Trophy winners last year and they haven’t found that same level this season yet,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said on Monday. “They have a lot of those same ingredients that have allowed their team to still look good on paper, look good statistically and look dangerous offensively.

“So there’s lots of reasons for us to continue to be focused on our game and try to build off the positive things that we did the other night in Boston. At the same time, I think we could still find another level to our game, even beyond what we had in Boston. Clearly that one was not quite good enough.”

The Maple Leafs lost 4-3 to the Bruins on a goal late in the third period, but Keefe was pleased with some aspects of his team’s game.

Keefe also has some concerns about a flu virus that has hit some members of the team.

Forward Pontus Holmberg and defenseman Rasmus Sandin did not practice Monday because of that very illness.

“It’s that time of year,” Keefe said.

Forwards Auston Matthews and Bobby McMann also were ill last week on the road.

“We try to be more conscious of course,” Keefe said. “We have gotten a lot better at (flu prevention) over the last few years. That said, once it starts, it is hard to slow it down.”

The absentees had Keefe juggling lines and defensive pairings for the Panthers.

Defensemen Morgan Rielly and Conor Timmins, who had a difficult game on Saturday, were split up in part because of Sandin’s condition. Rielly was with Timothy Liljegren and Timmins worked with Jordie Benn.

Toronto also announced Monday that forward Nicholas Robertson has had season-ending shoulder surgery.

At Buffalo, Matthew Tkachuk had three assists and Sergei Bobrovsky made 28 saves for the Panthers, who have won five of their past seven games.

“We built trust in each other, trust in the system,” Bobrovsky said. “We just work hard, compete hard. We have a tough schedule, but it doesn’t matter for us. We’re just working hard for each other and working for those two points.”

Bobrovsky has had most of the work in goal for the Panthers recently.

“It’s his first run of the year where he’s getting a bunch of games,” Florida coach Maurice said. “He’s into a good rhythm. We need that kind of goaltending. He’s battling in the net. He’s a little bit acrobatic and intense. The guys like that. It looks good from the bench. He’s making big saves and everyone’s rallying around him.”

–Field Level Media