By Bill Whitehead
When considering this four-game home stand — so promising a week ago but now just a reminder of decent play at times that yielded bad results — I think of one word: salvage. Really, that’s all the Panthers have left going for them in this stretch of four home games — two in which they led by two goals, plus one scoreless contest. All ended in overtime losses — three points (the minimum) instead of six (the maximum). A difference of three.
What’s three points, right?
Three more in the points column would have put them at 15, solely positioned in second just two points behind Southeast Division leader Carolina. Fifteen points would have also had Florida in the eighth to ninth spots, the important playoff cusp, in the Eastern Conference standings instead of 13th.
Under any other circumstance than the one that has occurred this homestand, Florida would gladly accept five points out of a possible eight. If the club tallied points at that pace from opening night, the Panthers would end with 60 and most definitely secure a playoff spot. But while they did start with a win, the Cats have been 3-6-4 since the home win over Carolina and aren’t in a position to let points get away.
Sure, all of that falls into the “What If” category, but it illustrates how important these points are, and their value increases doubly when you play just over half a season to figure out who will battle for the Stanley Cup.
Right now, Florida should forget about points — strike the word “points” from the vernacular. And don’t anyone say, “Hey, at least we got a point.” Just get a win over Toronto to boost morale, leave South Florida on a good note and try to regain some mojo in the Keystone State.
LIMPING LEAFS — Just like every team in this short season, Toronto has been nagged by injuries, and the news didn’t get any better last week. Second-leading goal scorer Matt Frattin (knee) and starting goaltender James Reimer (knee) were both placed on injured reserve and won’t play against Florida. They join defenseman Carl Gunnarson (hip) and forward Joffrey Lupul (forearm), who have played in seven and three games, respectively. Toronto called up goalie Jussi Rynnas to back up new starter Ben Scrivens. Rynnas, a native of Finland, has yet to make a start.
TOP SCORERS — James Van Riemsdyk leads Toronto in goals with eight, and all I can say is this: For the sake of the Florida writers’ spelling skills, let’s hope JVR stays off the scoresheet. Despite playing in just 10 games, Frattin still places second with seven, while Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri have five and four, respectively. Phil Kessel tops with nine assists and Kadri has eight. Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers with six goals — the only rookie to lead his team — and is second with nine points.
LEAFING HOME — The Maple Leafs are off to a solid start and much of the success has to do with the way the club has played away from the Air Canada Centre. Toronto is 6-2 on the road and currently rides sixth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Leafs are 7-3 in their last 10 and 1-0 in overtime. Toronto is one of three NHL teams not to participate in shootout yet, the other team being Carolina and Washington.
NUMBERS GAME — Florida RW Alex Kovalev needs one assist to reach 600 for his career. His 599 helpers grid him sixth, and he’s sixth in points with 1,029. Stephen Weiss sits at 249 assists for his career and linemate Tomas Fleischmann has 99 goals.
RAKING THE LEAFS — Florida owned Toronto last season, sweeping the four games in the season series — they also did it in 2008-2009 — and outscoring them 20-9. Florida has won the last five in the series and garnered points in 16 of the last 19, going 13-3-3. The Panthers are 24-24-7-5 against the Ontario club.
Ex-Leaf Bryan McCabe with some great highlights as a Cat. Stay to the end to see how to finish an overtime win:
Toronto (9-6-0, 18 pts.) at Florida (4-6-4, 14 pts.)
Mon., Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
BB&T Center — Sunrise, Fla.
BY THE NUMBERS
TOR vs. FLA
14.5% (24th) Power play 17.9% (14th)
80.0% (20th) Penalty kill 74.6% (26th)
2.87 (9th) Goals per game 2.43 (23rd)
2.40 (10th) Goals against 3.79 (30th)
1.30 (5th) 5-on-5 For/Ag. 0.64 (29th)
52.2% (6th) Faceoffs 49.8% (17th)
27.7 (23rd) Shots per gm 28.1 (21st)
31.7 (27th) Shots ag. per gm 30.6 (22nd)
Florida has 12 points in 14 games: 41.1 over 48 games.
LOCAL TV BROADCAST
Fox Sports Florida, 7:30 p.m.
Steve Goldstein (PxP), Bill Lindsay (Color)
560 WQAM, 7:30 p.m.
Randy Moller (PxP)