|Top line in Blue Sweaters instead of White (typically worn by top line) Kris Versteeg, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel during Leafs Practice at the Mastercard Centre in Toronto November 8th 2010.(Dave Abel/QMI AGENCY)
SUNRISE, FLA - Before this two-game Sunshine State swing began, Ron Wilson half-joked “I’ll take a 6-5 win or 1-0, as long as we find a way to win.”
There was no humour in the coach Wednesday afternoon as the Maple Leafs faced the possibility of being swept and having their losing streak stretched to seven games. That could lead to changes even before the Leafs play their next home game on Saturday against Vancouver, either a trade or a call-up from the Marlies, who are undefeated (3-0-2) midway through a long road trip.
“We’re looking at lots of things, including that the Marlies are hot,” general manager Brian Burke said in an e-mail to the Toronto Sun.
The Leafs took the morning off to prepare for the Panthers after a 4-0 loss in Tampa caused goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere to drop his Mr. Nice Guy persona and call out the many young Leafs who went south before this trip even started.
Any lineup changes weren’t going to be decided until the Leafs reached the BankAtlantic Center this evening, but Jonas Gustavsson will likely be in net. That’s no reflection on Giguere, who was likely going to sit out the second of back-to-back clashes and come back Saturday against the Canucks.
Toronto is carrying extra defenceman Carl Gunnarsson on this trip, but scoring is the real problem, and with such passive play from forwards such as Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak, it’s very likely that a banger such as centre Christian Hanson gets back in.
The Leafs don’t want to limp home with the storm cloud over their head to play the Northwest Divsion leading Canucks, who are run by one of Burke’s biggest rivals, Mike Gillis. The Panthers (5-7-0) are more vulnerable than the dynamic Steven Stamkos and the Lightning, but if the effort isn’t evident again, Burke is going to look to the farm.
“I don’t really have excuses for you,” Leafs' defenceman Luke Schenn said Tuesday night. “We have been pretty brutal the last few games. We haven’t gotten off to good starts and we have gotten behind the eight-ball right from the start it seems like. We have to be way better.”
The Panthers will be honouring former goalie John Vanbiesbrouck before Wednesday’s game. The leader in wins by an American-born ‘keeper with 374, he achieved 106 with Florida between 1993-98. The team made it to the ‘96 Cup final, losing to Colorado.