Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario | When: 7:30 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: Fox Sports Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Pension Plan Puppets, The Leafs Nation, Blue and White Brotherhood
If yesterday was the playoffs, today is potentially a trap.
The Lightning will play in Toronto tonight, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are a mess right now. That's not to be seen as a shot at head coach Mike Babcock or GM Lou Lamoriello as-so-much the player-personnel left on the Maple Leafs roster and where the club stands in the overall NHL standings: 52 points and dead-last. They have 4 games in-hand on the Edmonton Oilers who are only a single point ahead of them in the overall league standings. The team is in sell-off mode: Dion Phaneuf was traded along with a cache of others to the Ottawa Senators a few weeks back, James Reimer was dealt to the San Jose Sharks over the weekend, acquired-in-the-Phaneuf-deal Jared Cowen has been told he will be traded today, there's been speculation P.A. Parenteau will be dealt today, James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul are done for the season... There are four players on the roster with a positive plus/minus and none of them have more than 40 games played on the season (Riemsdyk being that player).
If you're thinking "seven in a row" - be it wins or Steven Stamkos goal-scoring streak - that's part of my concern it's a trap. The fact the game is in the media spotlight of ice hockey (being played in Toronto) does deflect opposition dismissal a bit, but distraction is another factor to be wary of, be it the NHL trade deadline and Lightning roster changes of the salivate-for-Stamkos act by Toronto media who are counting the days until July 1 and the start of NHL free agency.
The Leafs have made a key acquisition in the last few hours (and that might be added to during the course of the day) with Brooks Laich coming over from the Washington Capitals in a deal for Daniel Winnik. If nothing more, Laich is a veteran presence on a club that is taking a decisive younger/inexperienced player feel these days. In fact, the Leafs made a slew of recalls from the Toronto Marlies this morning; five promotions including Leafs top prospect William Nylander who will be making his NHL debut. In a way, it reminds me of the Lightning making recalls in 2013 of prospects...Except those recalls were gradual, not all at once. They may not be NHL mainstays but that doesn't mean they're incapable players who aren't ready for prime time. Playing for a struggling team against a club that played the night before gives them a chance to show their worthiness in the big leagues.
Speaking of 2013 Lightning recalls: Alex Killorn is five points shy of his point-total from last season (38), achieved in 71 games played. He's also 8 points behind his top point-production season in the league (41, tallied in 2013-14). His production last night in Boston (1 goal, 1 assist) playing on the top line with Stamkos and Ryan Callahan is evidence he's found a niche in the lineup.
It's likely - but not ironclad - Andrei Vasilevskiy starts between the pipes for the Bolts at the A.C.C. this evening. Starter Ben Bishop made 32 saves on 33 shots last night and while he started back-to-back games last week (against Pittsburgh and Carolina) you'd think the Vasilevskiy shuttling to the AHL was to keep him sharp for a looming game start. Vasy started in Tampa last week, picking up the win against the Arizona Coyotes. It's also possible that you see Vasilevskiy (via paperwork and not physically) sent down by 3 PM. It's a part of rules that would make Vasy eligible for AHL play post-deadline. Defenseman Matt Taormina has already been subjected to this today.