Maple Leafs hand Panthers a loss in return from holiday break

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

The holiday break was supposed to rejuvenate the Panthers, who were in desperate need of 2 points entering Wednesday night’s game against the visiting Maple Leafs. 

That appeared to be the case as they captured the early lead in shots, but rookie phenom Auston Matthews gave Toronto the early lead off a turnover by Kyle Rau deep in the defensive zone. Just after the Panthers won a coaches challenge on a no-goal by James van Riemsdyk, William Nylander scored in the 2nd period to make it a 2-goal deficit for the Panthers entering the 3rd, and they eventually came alive.

Jonathan Marchessault scored his team-leading 11th goal of the season off a rebound in front of the net 29 seconds into the period before Vincent Trocheck tied the game with his 9th of the year in just about the same fashion. Trocheck notched his 100th career NHL point with a secondary assist on Marchessault’s marker, which came just over 2 minutes before.

Denis Malgin was awarded a penalty shot and had the chance to take the lead for the first time, but was stopped by Toronto netminder Frederik Andersen’s right pad.

In overtime, the Panthers weathered the storm that was a Toronto power play late in the frame before being quieted in the shootout. Mitchell Marner scored the lone goal to lead the Maple Leafs past the Panthers, handing them their 3rd shootout loss in the last 7 games.

The shootout win was the first in 6 opportunities for Toronto this season.

Florida has just 4 wins since Tom Rowe took over as head coach following the team’s loss on November 27th, with the most recent one coming last Tuesday against the Sabres.

The two goals scored by the Panthers were the only ones allowed by Andersen, who finished the night with 45 saves on 47 shots, the second-most allowed by the Maple Leafs this season. Roberto Luongo stopped several grade-A chances by Marner and Matthews as part of his 38-save performance.

“It’s like a broken record,” said Vincent Trocheck. “We’ve got to play a full 60 minutes. If you want to look at some positives, it’s a good thing to see that we battled back and we had some confidence that we were going to come back. I thought we played a great third period, but there’s still lapses in our game.”

As if losing the game was enough, the Panthers also lost Aleksander Barkov to an apparently injury early in the 2nd period and did not return. Rowe was curiously tight-lipped about the status of Barkov and wouldn’t disclose the severity or location of the injury, although the video shows that he took a shot from Keith Yandle to the back or side.

Rowe said the team would know more about Barkov on Thursday. The Panthers are already without Reilly Smith, who suffered a concussion on Friday against the Red Wings, as well as Jonathan Huberdeau, who is on track for a mid-February return, and Alex Petrovic, out for at least 4 more weeks after suffering a broken ankle just over a month ago.

Before losing Barkov, Nick Bjugstad had been playing on the wing of a newly-formed line that included Jussi Jokinen and Vincent Trocheck. Jokinen has just 2 points since November 20th while Bjugstad has 1 goal and 1 assist in 17 games this season.

“It’s tough to kind of swallow right now,” said Keith Yandle. “For us to battle back and lose, it’s a good push that we see from our team and we’re not going to give up. But finding that extra point, especially now in the second half of the season, we’ve got to do a little bit more to get that.”

The Panthers will get back on the horse to face the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday after they were defeated by the Lightning in overtime on Wednesday night. Carey Price made 26 saves but it wasn’t enough for the Canadiens who have dropped 5 of their last 7 games and will be without David Desharnais, Greg Pateryn, Alex Galchenyuk, Andrei Markov, and Andrew Shaw.

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