Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning: Another potential playoff preview
The Lightning host the Leafs in an Atlantic division matchup
Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME 73
Time: 7:30 PM EDT
Location: Amalie Arena
Opponent SBNation Site: Pension Plan Puppets
Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs come to Amalie Arena to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lighting still sit in first place in the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference with 102 points while Leafs are in third with 93. With Bolts holding just a three point advantage over the Bruins with one less game to play, this game could easily be a preview of the first round of the playoffs.
The Lightning are coming off one of their most dominant games of the season beating the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 on Sunday evening. That win followed back-to-back frustrating losses and showcased a potential return to form for the Bolts. They played much better defensively and completely shut down the Oilers for the final two periods.
Being able to replicate that performance against the Leafs is unlikely. Toronto is much better coached and features a depth of skill far superior to the Oilers. Even without injured first-line center Auston Matthews, the Leafs will present a challenge with four lines that can all generate offense.
In some ways, these teams are similar. Both are built on excellent forward depth. Both also have clear weaknesses at the blue line and specifically on the right side. Games between these teams tend to be played at an exceptional pace featuring plenty of chances for both teams. Mike Babcock and Jon Cooper also have quite a history going back to when Babcock was in Detroit so both teams will be familiar with the other’s systems and tactics.
Diving into the numbers, both teams look good on paper and have been playing well recently. The dots for both teams on shot share and expected goal share in the “good” range for the last ten games meaning that they’ve been among the league leaders in those areas over the past couple of weeks.
For the Leafs, their strength is clearly on offense. They generate tons of high quality shots and put lots of pressure on the opposition. Their defense lags a little and that drags down their overall numbers. Recently, they’ve reversed that trend putting up much better defensive numbers with still above average offense.
The Lightning are a bit of a mirror image with stronger defensive numbers but relying more on shooting talent to drive their offense. The Leafs offense will be a big test for this new version of the Bolts blue line with Ryan McDonagh. This game will give an idea as to whether the improvements against Edmonton were real or just the product of facing a team headed for the lottery with nothing left to win this season.
The other key for the Lightning tonight will be the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy. He has struggled for the last few weeks. Those struggles have been exacerbated at times by poor defense. If the team in front of him can provide a similar performance to what they managed in front of backup Louis Domingue on Sunday, that might be the help Vasilevskiy needs to get back to playing well.
Much like the game against Boston on Saturday, this is another potential playoff series preview. The last one didn’t go well. The Bolts will be looking for a better showing and result tonight.
UPDATE: ONDREJ PALAT WILL RETURN TO THE LINEUP TONIGHT!!!!!!!
#Bolts coach Jon Cooper said Ondrej Palat will return tonight vs. Toronto. #TORvsTBL— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) March 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning
J.T. Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Adam Erne
Chris Kunitz - Anthony Cirelli - Ryan Callahan
Cedric Paquette - Cory Conacher
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Mikhail Sergachev - Braydon Coburn
Slater Koekkoek- Jake Dotchin
Toronto Maple Leafs
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner
Zach Hyman - William Nylander - Andreas Johnsson
James Van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown
Josh Leivo - Tomas Plekanec - Kasperi Kapanen
Morgan Reilly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Roman Polak
Travis Dermott - Connor Carrick