Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 7 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: FS Florida Sun, Sportsnet | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Pension Plan Puppets, Blue and White Brotherhood, Leafs Nation
The true midway point for the Tampa Bay Lightning season was a few weeks back when game #41 was played against the Edmonton Oilers for a 3-2 come-from-behind win. Tonight's game is the figurative half-way mark on the NHL season for the Bolts and their opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs, as the All-Star game pause will go into effect for both teams after the final horn. It's the Lightning's 49th game of the season and Toronto's 48th game. Where they sit in the standings is quite the contrast.
The Maple Leafs are on the bottom rung of the overall NHL, 43 points in 47 games played. They're tied in points with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Oilers, but the Leafs have games in-hand on both clubs. Its 2-6-2 record in the past 10 games is weaker than both clubs (3-5-2 for Edmonton, 4-4-2 for Columbus). And while Columbus is dead last, they just swept the Montreal Canadiens in a home-and-home, back-to-back series.
(Author note: Just to get this name out of the way because it's expected with chatter about the Leafs and the Lightning: Steven Stamkos.)
Tampa Bay hasn't played since Saturday and will be off until February 3rd with the All-Star break. The Bolts now sit a single point behind the Boston Bruins for the Atlantic Division's third-place slot, and hold the top wild card position for the moment in the Eastern Conference. Things are tight, tight, tight in the standings war. Winning and losing trends have and could once again throw the Lightning out of the playoffs or thrust them into the division lead...
What is sought after here by both clubs is going into the break on a high note. The Lightning will attempt to do it with Andrei Vasilevskiy starting in net. Vasy has not been of the highest caliber when he's made appearance in the crease in his last five games. While he can be credited with going 4-1-0 in that span, Vasy's been forced to after-regulation play in 3 of those games. He's also allowed 4 goals or more the past 3 games... That's not exactly sound and his .906 save percentage reflects this.
"Not exactly sound" also characterizes tonight's starter for the Leafs, Jonathan Bernier. The once highly touted backup netminder for the Los Angeles Kings has fallen by the wayside in Toronto with thanks in part to his 3.18 goals against average and his sub-.900 save percentage (.899) in 21 games played for Toronto. Suffice it to say, the game has the potential to be a contest between the penetrable force and the moveable object. The difference being the less experienced goalie has a stronger group playing in front of him (Vasilevskiy) while the nine-year pro has the tuckered out, flailing squad in front of him.
In a lineup note: Jonathan Marchessault is expected to play. Erik Condra and Matt Carle will be healthy scratches.