Leafs Hope to Avoid a Lightning Strike in Tampa Bay


    Coming off an uninspiring performance during a 4-3 road loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday, the Maple Leafs look to rebound tonight with a more energetic effort in Tampa Bay against a struggling Lightning squad.

    The Lightning currently sit 13th in the Eastern Conference with 48 points, 5 ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs and 4 out of the 8th and final playoff spot. For the Leafs to get back into the race, a victory tonight, and another Saturday against the Panthers, will be essential.

    Game notes:

    • The Leafs and Lightning have met twice already this season, with the visiting team earning the win on each occasion. The Lightning won 2-1 in overtime on November 3rd in Toronto, and the Leafs won 4-3 in Tampa Bay on November 25th.
    • Tampa Bay returns from a 3-game road trip where they went 1-2, culminating with Tuesday’s embarrassing 8-2 loss to the New York Rangers.  Over those three games, Tampa allowed 15 goals while scoring 7 of their own.
    • Lost in all the talk about Vincent Lecavalier’s future is the outstanding year being had by veteran winger Martin St. Louis, who has quietly put up 12 goals and 42 assists in 49 games thus far.  Steven Stamkos continues to excel, with 25 goals in 49 games.  Toronto’s defenders will need to be at their absolute best to slow down this trio.
    • The Leafs’ penalty killing has slowly started to improve.  Over their last 10 times shorthanded, the Leafs have allowed two PP goals, including a stint where they killed 7 straight penalties.  Interestingly, the improvement has coincided with the return of Carl Gunnarsson, who has seen extensive duty on the top PK unit the past couple games.
    • The good news for the Leafs’ offense is Nik Hagman appears to be back. The streaky winger has now scored in consecutive games after going goalless for his previous eleven.  Linemate Alexei Ponikarovsky has been hot with 3 goals and 1 assist in the past two games.
    • Tyler Bozak has impressed man in the 5 games he has played since his callup (1G, 3A, +1).  He has found some chemistry with Phil Kessell, who has registered 1 goal and 5 assists in the 5 games he has played with Bozak on his line.

    Injury News

    • Wayne Primeau is expected to return to the lineup tonight, likely taking the place of Rickard Wallin.
    • There is an outside chance Mike Komisarek could return also, but the coaching staff does not want to rush him and may wait until Saturday’s game against the Panthers to put him back in.

    The Goaltenders

    • Gustavsson and Niittymaki, both of whom started the previous matchups, are expected to get the nod for tonight’s game.
    • Gustavsson: 9-10-7, 2.98 GAA, .901 SV%
    • Niittymaki: 9-9-4, 2.83 GAA, .906 SV%

    Stats Pack

    • Tampa Bay at home: 11-6-5
    • Toronto on the road: 8-15-4
    • PP:  Tampa Bay 18.9% (t-12), Toronto 16.4% (t-23)
    • PK: Tampa Bay 79.4% (23), Toronto 69.6% (30)
    • Goals For: Tampa Bay 126 (27), Toronto 136 (t-13)
    • Goals Against: Tampa Bay 148 (23), Toronto 175 (30)
    • When scoring first:  Tampa Bay 13-3-4, Toronto 11-3-2

    Looking forward to your thoughts as always,