SUNRISE (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – This time last year the Florida Panthers were in the midst of a franchise-best 12 game winning streak.
Things have been a little different this year.
It’s been a rough few weeks for the Panthers, who have won only three times in their last 11 games as they prepare to host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
It is the third of a four-game homestand for the reigning Atlantic champions, who are stuck in fifth place in the division and sit only one point ahead of the Maple Leafs.
Florida lost its final two games heading into the Christmas break, including a 4-3 shootout defeat to Detroit in which it blew a two-goal lead in the third period.
The Panthers suffered another significant loss in the game when Reilly Smith sustained a concussion that is expected to sideline him for seven to 10 days.
Toronto probably could have done without the break after winning the first two stops of its four-game road trip in dominating fashion, outscoring Colorado and Arizona by a combined 10-1.
The Maple Leafs won both meetings this season, including a 6-1 rout of Florida on Nov. 17.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet (Toronto), FSN Florida
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (14-12-7): Goaltender Frederik Anderson, who registered his first shutout of the season last week at Colorado, has surrendered two goals or fewer in five of his last six starts.
Rookie Mitch Marner, who is second on Toronto with 25 points, one behind top overall draft pick Auston Matthews, has a goal and three assists in both matchups against the Panthers but has scored only once in his last 16 games overall.
The red-hot Matthews has netted 10 of his 16 goals over the past 14 games.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (15-14-6): With Smith expected to miss three games, coach Tom Rowe shuffled his lines at Tuesday’s practice.
Vincent Trocheck will move between slumping forwards Jussi Jokinen and Nick Bjugstad, who will shift from his normal center position to right wing after managing only one goal and two points through 16 games.
“I want to give (Bjugstad) some top-six minutes to get him going,” Rowe explained. “We talked about him getting off the schneid a little bit. He’s got one but we need more out of him.”
- Panthers F Jaromir Jagr was named the league’s First Star of the Week after eclipsing Mark Messier as the NHL’s second-leading scorer.
- Toronto is 3-for-6 on the power play and has killed off all 10 penalties in its last two wins.
- Panthers G Roberto Luongo is seeking his 448th victory, which would move him into fifth place on the all-time list.
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