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Don't say they're .500; Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs preview

WHERE: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario
WHEN: 7 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Pension Plan Puppets

Look at the standings, and you get the false impression that the Bolts have gotten back to square-one. The Lightning appears to be back at .500 with a 17-17-3 record. The media are spinning it that way; fan chatter spins it that way... And the narrative of the "shootout epidemic" continues to give the false security that the third column in the standings is a positive number, akin to the age-old system of wins, losses and ties.

It's not. The Tampa Bay Lightning record is 17-20. 17 wins, 20 losses.

That third column represents losses that just happen to be overtime / shootout losses. The "epidemic" that the media talks about, is the fact the losing team gets a point for going to overtime or the shootout. They don't have to be competitive in that extra time, they just have to reach it and their record gets bumped up with an extra point and the false perception they didn't flat-out lose. They just eventually lost.

And yet, a team that doesn't win in overtime or during the shootout... lost. An absolute. Not a shade of gray. It's a loss.

Some think the way to remedy this is to add extra points for wins (3 for wins, 2 for OT/SO wins, 1 for OT/SO losses, 0 for regulation losses). Others believe the entire situation would be best fixed by ending shootouts (...where you get to keep that extra column and extra points for going past regulation). Yet the problem isn't not enough points, or overtime being too-many men on the ice, or the shootout. It's that extra column in the standings and the loser-point.

People will disagree with me, because it's a hot-button hockey issue, but the problem isn't the shootout, or overtime length. It's that 3rd column in the standings. The game is absolutes now (wins and losses) and to give an extra point for extra effort during a game just seems like a cop-out. What is this, grade school?

But I digress. The point of this rant to lead into today's preview is to remind Bolt fans that the team isn't at .500 yet, and hasn't been at .500 for a while now. The three game winning streak is nice, but it'll would take three more wins and zero losses (a 20-17-3 record) for the Lightning to be at .500.

The Lightning is in Eastern Canada this week with visits to family and relatives, along with games in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. We start with the Maple Leafs this evening, and while that pits two of the NHL's leading goal scorers against each other (Phil Kessel is still near the top of the heap in the league with 21 goals on the season - while Steven Stamkos leads the league with 26 goals scored), it also faces off teams that seem to be trending in different directions.

The Bolts, as you well know, have been clawing their way back into the mix in the conference as of late. They are 6-3-1 in their past 10 games, with thanks to Stamkos and efforts in net by Mathieu Garon (can I get a "NON!" here? Can I get an "Amen"?). The Leafs, on the other hand, started out white-hot this season, and have been fading as of late. They lead the Bolts by four points in the conference standings (41 for Toronto, 37 for Tampa Bay) and are a disappointing 3-6-1 in their past 10.

Going into this game, though, the burden of proof is on Tampa Bay. The Lightning has been horrible on the road this season, going 6-12-3 in 21 games away from Times Palace. But maybe, just maybe, luck is on their side tonight? The Leafs aren't exactly dominant at home this season: they are 8-5-4 - or, if you use the logic from the top of the article, 8-9. Whatever the case, this entire trip is a test if the Bolts can be consistently competitive.

Victor Hedman did not travel with the team for this road trip. Fans and media have been mostly kept in the dark on Hedman's concussion. It remains a huge loss for the Lightning. The Bolts also remain without Mattias Ohlund, who is on IR and has been out all season with knee issues. Ryan Shannon also remains out of action.

On the bright side of things, Nate Thompson may very well return tonight at the ACC. He practiced yesterday and today with full contact. Nate's been out the past five games with an ambiguous lower-body injury. It raises the question of who sits with Nate back in the lineup. JT Wyman, who has turned heads and helped win games with his efforts? Perhaps Blair Jones? Yet, it looks like it will be Ryan Malone who sits, while Thompson is not a guarantee to be in the lineup.

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