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Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview and Game Day Thread

Well, this should be fun

NHL: DEC 09 Lightning at Maple Leafs Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME #69

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: NHL Network, BSSUN,

Opponent SBNation Site: Pension Plan Puppets

It’s that time of year when we can start rolling out a cliché or two. It’s the “dog days of the season”. “This is why you do all that work in the offseason”. “Every game is important.” For tonight’s game, we can break up a tired and true one - “Tonight’s game is a potential first round match-up!”

With the way the standings are arranged there is a good chance that the Lightning and the Leafs will meet up in the opening round of the playoffs as the #2 seed vs. #3 seed. Which team is which seed has yet to be determined, but should they both ward off the Boston Bruins, these two teams are going to be facing each other in a month or so.

What a series it should be. Both teams have star players and offensive depth. They both also can fall into ruts where defense becomes optional. The Lightning can be burned by forwards with speed and the Leafs goaltending is...well...they have goaltenders on the roster.

The Lightning are coming off of a game where they allowed way too many odd-man rushes and had too many turnovers. They were able to manage a point out of the game against the Montreal Canadiens, but their foes did provide a bit of a blueprint on how to attack them. Montreal picked off several drop passes in their own zone and quickly transitioned to offense. They didn’t hesitate to send their forwards out once they had possession and forced the Lightning blueline to back off (or play catch up if they had pinched in low on offense).

It is a systematic issue for the Lightning because of how aggressive their defense is on the puck and requires the team to be in sync in order to prevent the odd-man rushes. When they have success it’s because the forwards are rotating back and covering up and aren’t making bad passes in the offensive zone. They will need to be hyperfocused on not turning over the puck, because if they do - Toronto will put it into the back of the net.

The good news is that Toronto has their own defensive issues, allowing 3.03 goals per game. Inconsistency in net is an issue. They do have de facto number one netminder, Jack Campbell back in net, but he’s had some issues in net. While his standard numbers are okay - 2.66 GAA, .914 SV% - his -7.17 GSAx puts him in the neighborhood of Aaron Dell and Dustin Tokarski.

Not having Jake Muzzin and Rasmus Sandin, both on IR, in the defensive rotation in front of him isn’t helping. With the exception of Ryan McDonagh, the Lightning have been relatively healthy and able to roll out a consistant line-up for one of longer stretches of the season. Hopefully that continues when their veteran blueliner returns and they can head into the postseason with a set squad.

In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy tonight’s game.

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

Forwards

Steven Stamkos - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat - Anthony Cirelli - Alex Killorn

Brandon Hagel - Nick Paul - Ross Colton

Patrick Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry

Defensemen

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta

Mikhail Sergachev - Erik Cernak

Zach Bogosian - Cal Foote

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Brian Elliott

Toronto Maple Leafs Potential Lines

Forwards

Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner

Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Alexander Kerfoot

William Nylander - David Kampf - Pierre Engvall

Nick Abruzzese - Colin Blackwell - Wayne Simmonds

Defense

Morgan Reilly - Ilya Lyubushkin

T.J. Brodie - Justin Holl

Mark Giordano - Timothy Liljegren

Goaltenders

Jack Campbell

Erik Kallgren