Lightning host Maple Leafs for early Thanksgiving dinner

WHERE:  St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
MEDIA: Sun Sports (Cable.  Welcome back, fellas.), 620 WDAE (radio)

Maybe you remember the greeting that Mattias Ohlund gave to Phil Kessel last time these two teams met? That "welcome back" nudge while Kessel was carrying the puck into the Lightning's zone?

Yeah, that one.

Kessel had ten shots during his first game back from injury. Sure he got knocked pretty good by Ohlund, but he added a spark to the Maple Leafs lineup that's been in need of extra spark all season. Expect more hard nosed action between the two teams tonight at Times Palace as the Bolts open up a stretch where they play the next six of nine at home.

Yesterday's practice revealed more line shakeups for the Lightning. Jeff Halpern will be moving to right wing from center in the latest attempt to find Vincent Lecavalier someone on his right wing to give his line a spark (and give the Bolts a legit two-line scoring threat). Alex Tanguay moves back to left wing on that line. Halpern described the position shift by sharing his thoughts on the difference between center and wing:

He said at center "you support everyone on the ice. You're constantly supporting the puck and are always around it. You have to have a presence of what your linemates are doing, so I feel like center has the most impact on the game. Wing you have to be the first guy in on the puck, come in with a hit. You skate as hard as you can and try to get your puck to the centerman. It's a completely different mentality. At center I take it upon myself to support the other four guys on the ice as much as I can whereas on the wing I play my spot and I go when I'm supposed to go."

Paul Szczchura moves to center on the third line, between James Wright and Steve Downie. And for those who have not read between the lines yet, this means the line of "St. Malokos" (as Hockey Buzz's Jon Jordan likes to term the trio of Ryan Malone, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis) has been resurrected. It's also likely that defenseman Kurtis Foster continues experimenting at playing forward.

The Bolts enter tonight's game with 25 points.  The Lightning did not reach 25 points last season until December 30th, 2008 in a shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens.  What a difference a season makes.

Despite overall troubles, the Maple Leafs remain hot on the power play with a 22.7% conversion percentage (8th in the NHL). The penalty kill, on the other hand, is not so great (74.2 -- 29th in the NHL). They are averaging nearly 35 shots on goal per game (34.7)... meaning Antero Niittymaki has his work cut out for him tonight, as the Bolts have been guilty of allowing far too many shots per game while not taking enough of their own.

With the news Mike Lundin will be playing tonight, there's a chance that the Bolts once again dress seven defensemen -- giving Kurtis Foster substantially more playing time at forward. The booming slapshot of Foster is an asset the Bolts want to have at their disposal during a game -- but his defense has not been up to par for Rick Tocchet.

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

(updated November 24, 2009 by RawCharge subject to change)

Forward Lines:

Alex Tanguay - Vincent Lecavalier - Jeff Halpern
Ryan Malone - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
James Wright - Paul Szczechura - Steve Downie
Kurtis Foster - Zenon Konopka - Stephane Veilleux


Victor Hedman | Andrej Meszaros
David Hale | Matt Walker
Lukas Krajicek | Kurtis Foster / Mike Lundin


Antero Niittymaki (starter)
Mike Smith

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