MAPLE LEAFS (27-36-11) at LIGHTNING (43-27-5)
Tick . . . tock . . . . . tick . . . tock . . . can you hear that? That’s the sound of year one of the scorched earth rebuild slowly grinding to a conclusion. Although for Maple Leaf players it will be anything but a slow grind as they’re getting ready to play an almost frenetic three road games in the next four nights.
Tonight starts said road trip off with the first half of back to games as the Buds visit the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Amalie Arena. This will be the final meeting between these two teams this season with the Lightning hold a 3-1 edge in the series.
Something is amiss in Tampa. This is the part of the season when cup contenders start ramping up their game and preparing for the true grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tampa is 4-5-1 in their past ten games and playing only .500 hockey for the month of March. This is after a blistering pace of wins in January and February. Tampa has also stepped aside and allowed the Florida Panthers to claim top spot in the Atlantic Division.
This time last year, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper made some controversial moves that may have cost Tampa the Stanley Cup. There have been rumblings of players now tuning out Cooper. Whatever the issue is, there is no doubt it is happening in the dressing room and that this turn for the worse is coming at the worst possible time in the schedule.
The last meeting between these two teams was March 15th, where the Leafs came out on top 4-1. Tonight the Bolts are not taking any chances with this Maple Leafs team. Bishop will be between the pipes.
For the Leafs, it’s still about auditions, development and now learning how to win. At the trade deadline, the Leafs recalled a significant part of the farm team. Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe has done a great job preparing the youngsters for their first two months in the NHL.
It took some time for the call ups to learn Babcock’s way. Once that happened the team has been gelling ever since and have put together a surprising and very respectable 6-3-1 record over the past ten games. For the month of March, Toronto is also playing .500 hockey but that is after losing their first four games in March. Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman and coach Cooper will be very, very wary of this and the hockey the Buds are playing.
Canadian Press National Hockey Writer Jonas Siegel posted on Twitter how Nazem Kadri is working on new techniques to shoot the puck. With only eight games remaining in the season, it is surprising to hear this coming from Kadri. He should be commended for wanting to be a more prolific scorer but this is a contract year for him and people are wondering why now? Things like this are worked on during the off season…. no?
He has already eclipsed his point total over last year, leads the team in points and has improved his play away from the puck. Staying on his feet is probably a good idea too. Social media is confused on the messages Kadri is putting out there right now. Perhaps he is better off talking about the team rather than himself.
Leafs Nation is worried about finishing last overall. That should be the result, but there is a good reason to worry. Edmonton is only two points ahead of Toronto and the Leafs hold four games in hand. Yet another LEGIT shot for Edmonton to pick first overall. Please discuss amongst yourselves.
In the forty-nine years since the Leafs last Stanley Cup there has never been such an effort to bring glory back to the City of Toronto. Optimism is abound as the season draws to a close. Now the talk is not only for now but next year as well. Exciting times are ahead. As always, a win should be on the mind.
Enjoy the game tonight.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Milan Michalek – Nazem Kadri – Michael Grabner
Zach Hyman – William Nylander – PA Parenteau
Brad Boyes – Tyler Bozak – Connor Brown
Colin Greening – Brooks Laich – Ben Smith
Martin Marincin – Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner – Connor Carrick
Rinat Valiev – Frank Corrado
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Alex Killorn – Valtteri Filppula – Steven Stamkos
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Jonathan Marchessault
Cedric Paquette – Vladislav Namestnikov – J.T. Brown
Erik Condra – Brian Boyle – Mike Blunden
Victor Hedman – Matt Carle
Jason Garrison – Andrej Sustr
Nikita Nesterov – Braydon Coburn
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Gdiff (5v5) — -24
Gdiff (All) — -36
CF% (5v5) – 51.8
PP% – 15.0
PK% – 80.2
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Gdiff (5v5) — +22
Gdiff (All) — +29
CF% (5v5) – 52.2
PP% – 16.7
PK% – 83.8