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Five Takeaways - Leafs at Panthers - 03/14/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 7-2 loss to the Florida Panthers Tuesday at BB&T Center:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Panthers stake out lead at start of first period, add to it on shorthanded marker. The Leafs carried a three-game win streak into the showdown with Florida, but Toronto's defensive prowess at the start of games - an area that's been one of concern at times this season - was a problem Tuesday: just 18 seconds into the contest, the Panthers took a 1-0 lead on centre Aleksander Barkov's 18th goal of the season. And though the Leafs had a chance to tie it up midway through the period on the power play, the home team added to their advantage with a shorthanded marker from centre Colton Sceviour at 10:33.

Defenceman Nikita Zaitsev lost his footing on the shorthanded goal, but Toronto's two-goal deficit couldn't be pinned on him. The Leafs didn't match Florida's energy to start the game, and the desperate Panthers made the most of their opportunities.

 

Video: TOR@FLA: Komarov capitalizes off turnover for PPG

2. Komarov cuts into Florida's lead on power play, but Panthers strike again before first intermission. Toronto's power play was the NHL's second-best heading into Tuesday's game, and though they had a breakdown on their first man advantage, the Leafs converted on their next chance when winger Leo Komarov took a pass from winger William Nylander and beat Panthers goalie James Reimer for his 11th goal of the year at 13:36 of the first.

However, only 45 seconds after that, Florida reestablished their two-goal lead when centre Jonathan Marchessault put a shot on net from the point that eluded goaltender Frederik Andersen for his 21st of the season, and the Panthers took a 3-1 lead into the second frame. All in all, it wasn't an ideal start for Toronto, but they did outshoot the home team 9-7 and had a shot at getting back into the game in the final 40 minutes of regulation.

3. Babcock changes things up in net, but Panthers add to advantage. Leafs head coach Mike Babcock inserted Curtis McElhinney into his team's net to begin the second period, but at the 4:38 mark of the frame, Marchessault added his second goal of the night to give Florida their biggest advantage of the game. McElhinney couldn't be faulted on the play, but Toronto's defensive breakdown could. Playing a team that was striving to remain in the playoff race, the Leafs could not afford to be as loose around the puck as they were Tuesday, and the Panthers hurt them just about every time they had a miscue.

4. Smith pads Florida's lead late in second. Again, the Leafs outshot the Panthers for much of the second period, but Toronto was unable to generate more offence, and Florida winger Rielly Smith netted his 11th goal of the year at 16:22 of the period to increase his team's advantage to four goals.

The Panthers were opportunistic, but again, the Leafs' play in their own zone was far from ideal. And although Toronto's offence is one of the more electric in the league when they're on their game, it was disjointed and unable to produce anything off the cycle on this night.

 

Video: TOR@FLA: Soshnikov roofs a backhander

5. Soshnikov scores late in second, but it's not nearly enough to get Leafs back in game, and Panthers add more offence before night is through. Winger Nikita Soshnikov registered his fifth goal of the season with 1:41 left in the second, but 1:14 after that, winger Jussi Jokinen restored Florida's four-goal lead on the power play, and the Panthers entered the final frame in firm control. 

In the third, blueliner Keith Yandle scored at the 2:17 mark for the final goal of the night. Toronto will have only a day off to work on what went wrong, and with the playoff race tightening up Tuesday, Thursday's tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning is even more crucial to the Leafs' playoff aspirations than ever. A full reset on the defensive end is needed; without it, the Bolts are likely to take advantage of letdowns in much the same way as the Panthers did.

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