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Panthers no easy mark for struggling Leafs

Jesse Winchester,  Peter Budaj

Florida Panthers center Jesse Winchester (17) celebrates after scoring the first goal against Montreal Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj (30) during second period NHL action Sunday, Dec.15, 2013 in Montreal.(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)


A couple of weeks ago, right about the time the Toronto Maple Leafs were preparing for a tough stretch of contests against some of the NHL’s elite, the Florida Panthers’ visit to the ACC on Dec. 17 probably looked like a respite of sorts.

After all, the Panthers entered December with a 7-15-5 record and had recently fired their coach, Kevin Dineen. They were also the worst team in the league last season.

Today, though, the Panthers don’t look like such an easy mark. With five wins in their last six tries, they’ve found some traction under new coach Peter Horachek.

On Sunday, Florida went into Montreal and won 2-1, with the Canadiens only managing 18 shots against goalie Scott Clemmensen.

“Our guys were diving in front of shots, putting sticks out there to deflect passes,” said Clemmensen, per the Miami Herald. “I tip my hat to the guys in front of me. When you don’t have to make a save, it makes things a lot easier.”

Per Extra Skater, here’s how the Panthers are trending in terms of their possession stats:

Florida Panthers 2013-2014 cumulative 5v5 close FF%

Meanwhile, the Leafs have just three regulation wins in their last 20. Despite an impressive win over Chicago Saturday, they were outplayed by a badly banged-up Penguins team last night, losing 3-1 and seeing their record fall to 17-15-3.