Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario
When: 7:30 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Pension Plan Puppets, The Leafs Nation, Blue and White Brotherhood
Tampa Bay ends its road trip in a fashion GM Steve Yzerman feared when NHL realignment took place - crossing the border only to cross it again a few hours later to fly back home, wasting time and energy in customs in both cases.
There are other issues of substance following the Lightning along at the moment, the desire to erase Tuesday night's loss to the New York Islanders being the primary one. The thing is where the Bolts play tonight, what's going on with them means little to nothing. No, this is the Toronto Maple Leafs game of necessary-redemption and the opponent doesn't matter. The opponent must be vanquished, the glory of the Leas must be re-established or the world is over in the greater Toronto metropolitan area until the next foe enters the Air Canada Centre and Maple Leaf redemption takes place. Okay, Toronto isn't that pretentious about team pride. The general fact is things aren't rosy right now for the club.
Tuesday wasn't just a disappointing 5-2 loss for a Lightning team that was playing on the flip-side of back-to-back games. Tuesday was a loss for the Leafs, too... No, let me put it in better terms: it was a decimatation, it was a slaughter. It was an implosion so grand, Connor McDavid's agent called his client and wept with joy while sharing the news that a new player in the 2015 NHL draft lottery sweepstakes was emerging.
9 goals allowed; N-I-N-E. And the embarrassing loss wasn't to a bitter rival but to the Nashville Predators. Perhaps traditionalists would see that as a bigger insult than the Leafs November 15th loss to the Buffalo Sabres? Not only was it a cross-conference opponent but one from a non-traditional market.
The horror... The horror.
So the Lightning venture to the center of the hockey universe to take on a Leafs team trying to move past the disaster from Tuesday and resume a season that had been chugging along positively (they were 6-1-1 in the 8 games prior to their current downward spiral); they're 9-8-2, good for 20 points and a 6th place standing in the Atlantic Division at the moment. The club can score (with 58 goals to their name, Phil Kessel leads the team with 11 goals and 11 assists) but they don't stop opponents from doing the same (having given up 60 goals). This is the style of head coach Randy Carlyle and the longer Carlyle stays in control of the Maple Leafs, the better the chances the club has for a shot at winning the 2015 NHL draft lottery instead of vying for a playoff spot.
A big loss, a three game losing streak, and a panicking fan base. What reads like a prime opportunity for the Lightning to pour salt on the wound and pick up a win is also awfully familiar and familiarly awful; that being the October 20th loss to the as-of-that-point-winless Edmonton Oilers. The game shouldn't be approached with arrogance or dread (I'm looking at you, Leafs fans). It's why you play the games to begin with: To get the results.
In Lightning lineup news, Cedric Paquette was listed as day-to-day on Wednesday with the lovely-in-ambiguity lower-body injury. Dump Truck sustained the injury during game play at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday. Paquette found his place in the Lightning lineup by way of injuries and it's an odd coincidence that one player who was replaced in the lineup by Paquette, Brett Connolly, may be the individual who benefits directly from Cedric being sidelined. Connolly stated on Tuesday that he's ready to return and hoped to slink into the lineup at the ACC tonight. Well, unless head coach Jon Cooper decides to go 11 forwards and 7 defensemen for this game, an opportunity has opened up.
As was said above, Toronto can score... Their potency on the power play pales to what it was last season (where they were near or at the top of the league in efficiency) but it's not like they're pushovers: a 19.7% scoring rate with the man-advantage puts them in 11th in the league, six slots behind the Lightning (who are at a 23.2% efficiency, 5th overall in the league). On the other side of the coin, Toronto remains static where they stand among the 30 NHL teams (ranked 11th) on the penalty kill, which is sort of puzzling in that "they don't stop opponents that well" kind of way; they have an 83.6% kill-rate. That's 2.7% better than the Lightning, who are ranked 17th in the league (80.9%).
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter