After a decisive victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning will try to remain perfect on the road thus far against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.
Coming into tonight’s game, the Tampa Bay Lightning have amassed four wins, but still haven’t scored in the first period. Fortunately, though, the team has outscored opponents 16-9 in the second and third periods combined.
But, if they want to emerge from the Air Canada Centre with a win, the Lightning will have to find a way to score first and hold the lead against a young and determined Toronto Maple Leafs team that can strike quickly in the first period and in so many other ways.
Aside from that, the main storyline for tonight is that Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is returning to his hometown for the first time since he signed an eight-year contract with the team back in late June. If you can remember, the only thing that Leafs fans could focus on last season is the possibility of the NHL superstar returning to Toronto and being the savior of the team he grew up watching.
Tampa Bay Lightning
However, their dreams were crushed once it was announced that he’d be staying in Tampa Bay to play on a contender for the Stanley Cup. That’s beside the point, though, and let’s focus on the game this evening instead.
Over the first five games, the Maple Leafs have gone 1-1-3, given up 18 goals and scored 18 goals for an even goal differential, scored 26.7 percent of the time on the Power Play, killed off 88.9 percent of their penalties, which are both respectable rates, and the team as a whole is over 50 percent in both the shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts categories.
After looking at those stats, the Leafs haven’t played terribly, but their main weakness is holding leads, which is something the Lightning can take advantage of if needed. Over their five games played, Toronto has blown multiple leads, including three separate occasions on opening night against the Senators, when rookie Auston Matthews scored four goals and giving up five unanswered to the Winnipeg Jets last Wednesday after opening the game with four.
Speaking of Matthews, this summer’s number overall pick already has five goals, three assists, a plus-2 rating, 22 shots, a 53.2 Corsi For percentage (or SAT) and 60 percent of his starts have come in the offensive zone, as expected. He’s not the only young star to look out for on the Leafs, though, as Toronto also boasts newcomer and forward Mitch Marner, who has a goal and two assists, rising number one defenseman Morgan Rielly, and forward William Nylander.
All of these players are under the age of 22 and the Leafs have more on the way up, so as you can see, the future is bright north of the border.
On the Lightning side of things, the team currently sits in second place in the Atlantic Division with a 4-1-0 record (8 pts.), a plus-2 goal differential, excellent numbers on both the Penalty Kill and Power Play, scoring 26.3 percent of the time on the man advantage and killing off 92.3 of their penalties, which is good for top-10 in both categories, and the team as a whole is winning over 50 percent of their faceoffs.
Possession metrics-wise, the Tampa Bay Lightning is over 50 percent in both standard categories (SAT and USAT), but you can look much deeper than that, of course. Overall, the team has performed well over its first five games, excluding the hiccup against the Colorado Avalanche last Thursday. All that they’re looking for now is a first period goal and there’s a good chance that they’ll score one tonight.
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In order to remain perfect on this six-game road trip thus far, the Lightning will have to come out strong against this young Maple Leafs squad that can score in bunches, as we’ve seen the past few games, and play a full 60 minutes, as usual. However, Lightning fans have yet to see this team dominate for an entire game, though the game against Ottawa was the closest to a full effort.
I’m not expecting them to dominate tonight, but I do expect them to take advantage of the Leafs’ weakness on defense and use their speed and layered attack/depth to create multiple scoring chances in front of goaltender Frederik Andersen. It should be an interesting game, especially with the Stamkos drama in the mix, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they score four to five goals again.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will take the night off after his last start on Saturday against the Senators, and main starter Ben Bishop will get the nod tonight against the Leafs. As for Toronto, Andersen will make his fifth start of the season and has a 1-0-3 record with a .879 save percentage and 3.63 goals against average.
This could very well be a high-scoring game if things get a bit loose on the goaltending and defense side of things, or it could be tight, low-scoring game if all goes well and Bishop cleans up his performance from the past few starts (his GAA is currently over 3.60 and he has a .861 SV%). Nonetheless, it should be an exciting game against another divisional foe.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time this season and as one would expect, all eyes will be on Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos, especially after what played out this past summer. As usual, tonight’s game will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports Sun and online with Fox Sports Go in select areas. You can also listen to tonight’s match-up on Lightning Radio 970 WFLA. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. Go Bolts!
Tampa Bay Lightning
Vladislav Namestnikov – Steven Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Jonathan Drouin
Alex Killorn – Valtteri Filppula – Brayden Point
Cedric Paquette – Brian Boyle – J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman – Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison – Andrej Sustr
Braydon Coburn – Nikita Nesterov
Toronto Maple Leafs
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
Leo Komarov – Nazem Kadri – Connor Brown
Matt Martin – Ben Smith – Peter Holland
Morgan Rielly – Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner – Roman Polak
Matt Hunwick – Connor Carrick