|Florida Panthers goalie Jose Theodore (60) makes a save as defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, center, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Kulemin, right, battle for the loose puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, in Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)|
Panthers rout Leafs, off to best start in years
TORONTO—The Florida Panthers took advantage of shaky Maple Leafs goaltending to help them to their best start since the 1996-97 season.
Jack Skille, Marco Sturm, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim and Shawn Matthias scored for Florida in a 5-1 win over Toronto on Tuesday night.
Jose Theodore finished with 38 saves for the Panthers.
"We played a good game," Theodore said. "The Leafs came out hard in the first period, but we didn't get intimidated. We showed them that we were prepared to play. We got the momentum and didn't let go."
The Maple Leafs, struggling without injured goalie James Reimer, were booed by the home fans for the second straight game after Jonas Gustavsson surrendered three soft goals.
Phil Kessel scored Toronto's lone goal.
Reimer has missed eight games because of concussion symptoms following a hit by Montreal's Brian Gionta on Oct. 22. There is no timetable for Reimer's return.
"I really don't know (when he'll be back). I can't comment on that because I simply don't know," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said.
The Maple Leafs (9-5-1) got by initially with Gustavsson and third-stringer Ben Scrivens, but they haven't played with confidence recently.
"They've got to work hard in practice," Wilson said. "That's their responsibility to sit there with (goalie coach Francois Allaire) and go over the games. At least we go on the road, where maybe they can relax a little bit and not worry about what's going to happen if they make a mistake.
"Tomorrow, they'll hopefully bounce back."
It certainly hasn't helped that Toronto's offense has struggled. The Maple Leafs ended a scoreless streak of 137 minutes, 59 seconds before Kessel scored his NHL-leading 11th goal in the third period. By then the game was out of reach.
"Sometimes that goes hand in hand," Wilson said. "If you're not sure what's going to happen in the back, you play a little cautious."
The Leafs were looking to bounce back after being hammered 7-0 by Boston on Saturday night, but Gustavsson spotted the Panthers an early lead. Skille had an open net for his first goal of the season at 9:45 after Gustavsson slid well out of his crease.
Toronto looked poised to tie the game during a strong start to the second period that forced Panthers coach Kevin Dineen to call a timeout.
Instead, goals 19 seconds apart chased Gustavsson and gave Florida (7-4-3) a 3-0 lead. On the first one, Gustavsson mishandled the puck behind the net. Sturm cashed in at 16:28 before Kopecky beat him on a rush that developed off the ensuing faceoff.
"It's just one of those nights where we don't get the bounces," Gustavsson said. "Everything just hit the post and deflects and bounced back and forth. Overall, I felt pretty good."
Fans cheered when Leafs coach Ron Wilson sent Scrivens in to replace him.
"We've got to shore up our goaltending obviously," Wilson said.
The rookie had a couple good moments -- stopping former Leafs forward Kris Versteeg on a breakaway -- but he allowed goals to Bergenheim and Matthias in the third period. He might earn his third NHL start when Toronto plays at St. Louis on Thursday night. The Blues won their first game under new coach Ken Hitchcock on Tuesday night.
"In my mind (I know who I'll start), but I don't have to share it," Wilson said. "Why don't I just call Hitch? Does anybody have a cellphone? I'll call Hitch and tell him who's going to play.
"We'll make the decision at practice tomorrow or even the next day. I want to see how the goalies play in practice, how they rebound from this and we'll go from there."
NOTES: Leafs rookie forward Matt Frattin was minus-2 through 40 minutes in his first game since being recalled from the AHL. ... Cody Franson, Jay Rosehill and Colton Orr were scratched for Toronto. ... Rookie D Erik Gudbranson sat out a third straight game for the Panthers.