"Northbeast" versus "Southleast"; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Toronto Maple Leafs preview

The Toronto Maple Leafs are just one example of the high potency of the NHL's Northeast Division. Standings points show how formidable the division is, especially when compared to the NHL's Southeast Division.

WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Pension Plan Puppets, The Leafs Nation

The Northeast Division is a monster to behold. What was a two horse race just last week has become a three-headed beast, with the Montreal Canadiens now atop the division with 21 points. The Toronto Maple Leafs (tonight's opponent) and the Boston Bruins (Thursday's opponent) are tied for second in points with 20 each. That's 61 points among the top three teams in the division, 79 points when you place the Ottawa Senators into the mix (they're fourth in the division with 18 points), and 92 for the entire division when the last-place Buffalo Sabres are added to the equation (13 points).

By contrast, the entire Southeast Division has a total of 69 points divided up amongst the five teams in the division. While seven points separate second place and fifth place in the northeast, a scant four is the margin between second (where Tampa Bay sits) and fifth in the Southeast.

And second place in the division at this rate is not going to be good enough for a playoff spot. The Lightning are seeded ninth in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, just outside the fray.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are coming off a 3-0 win in South Florida last night, with goalie Ben Scrivens getting the shutout after turning away 37 shots from the Panthers; Nazem Kadri getting a goal and an assist. The Leafs are on a 7-3-0 tear at the moment, on the up-up-up compared to the Bolts 4-5-1 in their past ten.

But could tonight be a road bump for Toronto? This is the second game of back-to-back affairs, and the Leafs have been dependent on Scrivens in net as James Reimer has been out with a knee injury over the past week. If Scrivens gets the nod, that's asking for trouble in Toronto. I'm not doubting Ben, who impressed me during the 2012 AHL Calder Cup Finals against Tampa Bay's then-AHL affiliate (the Norfolk Admirals)), but going from a 37 game effort to playing one of the NHL's most potent offenses (...when they come to play) is a recipe for disaster....or legend in the making. Take your pick.

Despite the Lightning's woes of late, Martin St. Louis is among the top in the NHL in assists with 17; Marty and Steven Stamkos are tied (with the Blackhawks Patrick Kane) for 3rd in the NHL with 21 overall points. Toronto's top scoring threat at the moment is the aforementioned Nazem Kadri, who has 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in 16 games. That point total may underline the fact that offense only gets you so far, and a full game is what gets you the points.

Anders Lindback is slated to start in net for the Lightning, that's been confirmed. Scrivens will indeed start tonight's game for Toronto. Also of note, Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier did not skate this morning with the team, taking that off for "body maintenance". It would not be wrong to think his ankle (hit by a Sami Salo slap shot in the closing minutes of the 2-1 loss to Philadelphia) is still hounding him. He's certainly going to play, though. Also going to play is Marc-Andre Bergeron; if that will be in a 12-6 or 11-7 roster split will not be known until game time.

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