The Tampa Bay Lightning faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs on the tail end of back-to-back games for both teams on Thursday.
The Lightning are less than 24 hours removed from a dramatic 4-3 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens, while the Maple Leafs outlasted the Florida Panthers in a 3-2 shootout win in Sunrise on Wednesday.
Toronto enters Thursday’s contest on a three-game winning streak and will face a Lightning team that has earned points in four of their past five games (3-1-1) after a tough string of games in December.
Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat returned to the the lineup against the Canadiens and reunited with line mate Tyler Johnson to form the team’s most productive unit in the contest — combining for three goals, three assists and a plus-eight rating.
For the Lightning, the win over the Canadiens came at a cost, as rookie Brayden Point was injured in the third period and the team announced on Thursday that he would miss the next four to six weeks with an upper-body injury. Vladislav Namestnikov, who took a hard hit from Shea Weber in the contest, is also listed as day-to-day and will not be in the lineup.
The Maple Leafs boast one of the most exciting offenses in the league — lead by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, James van Riemsdyk and William Nylander. For Toronto, who ranks seventh averaging 2.90 goals for per game, the question hasn’t been their offensive capabilities, but in the defensive end.
They rank 15th in the NHL, yielding an average of 2.7 goals per contest, bu have allowed just six goals in their past five games behind the strong goaltending of Frederik Andersen.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning
Amalie Arena – 7:30 p.m. EST
Broadcast Channels – Fox Sports Sun, TVAS, SNO
2016-17 Season Series: Tampa Bay leads 1-0-0 (Oct. 25: 7-3)
Toronto Maple Leafs – 15-12-7 – 37 Points
Road Record: 6-6-5
Hot Players: Frederik Andersen, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander
Key Injuries: Martin Marincin (lower-body), Ben Smith (lower-body)
Leo Komarov – Nazem Kadri – William Nylander
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – Connor Brown
Matt Martin – Frederik Gauthier – Nikita Soshnikov
Morgan Rielly – Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner – Connor Carrick
Matt Hunwick – Roman Polak
*These line combinations are subject to change. Andersen played on Wednesday and there hasn’t been an official announcement about who will be between the pipes.
Tampa Bay Lightning – 18-15-3 – 39 Points
Home Record: 10-5-1
Hot Players: Jonathan Drouin, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat
Key Injuries: Ben Bishop (lower-body), Ryan Callahan (lower-body), Vladislav Namestnikov (upper-body), Cedric Paquette (lower-body), Brayden Point (upper-body), Steven Stamkos (right knee)
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
Brian Boyle – Valtteri Filppula – Jonathan Drouin
Alex Killorn – Matthew Peca – J.T. Brown
Michael Bournival – Yanni Gourde – Nikita Nesterov (or Erik Condra)
Victor Hedman – Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison – Andrej Sustr
Braydon-Coburn – Slater Koekkoek
**These combinations are subject to change. Vasilevskiy has been confirmed as the starter.
1) The Lightning will face the Maple Leafs for the second of four meetings between the clubs in the 2016-17 regular season. The Lightning posted seven goals against the Leafs on Oct. 25 — their highest goal output of the season — behind four point nights from Steven Stamkos and Kucherov. However, the Lightning are battling a number of injuries and the Maple Leafs have been playing a much more sound game defensively of late so a similar offensive outburst from the Lightning seems unlikely this time around.
2) Matthews has tallied 17 goals and 11 assists just 34 games into his career and has helped ignite a Maple Leafs fan base that’s sought out a young star in Toronto for quite some time. Matthews and fellow rookie, Marner, are dangerous because of their speed and creativity in the offensive zone. The Leafs are averaging a league-leading 37.5 shots on goal per game in December and the Lightning cannot afford to give Toronto’s young stars lots of offensive opportunities.
3) Andrei Vasilevskiy will start for the second straight night in a row after allowing three goals on 22 shots against the Canadiens on Wednesday. He recovered with a strong third period after surrounding three goals in forty minutes of play, including losing the puck behind the net early in the game that resulted in a Habs’ lead.
4) The Lightning recalled forwards Yanni Gourde and Erik Condra from the Syracuse Crunch (American Hockey League) on Thursday. It’s likely that you see at least one and potentially both players in the lineup against the Maple Leafs. Gourde is coming off a two-goal performance — a shorthanded goal and the game-winning tally — in the 3-2 overtime victory over the Hershey Bears.
5) The Lightning converted on one of three power plays during Wednesday’s contest, as Palat tallied their only goal with the man advantage to tie the game with just three and a half minutes left in regulation. The Lightning are ranked third on the power play with a 23.4-percent success rate, while the Maple Leafs enter Thursday’s game with the league’s seventh best penalty killing unit (84.2-percent).
The Lightning will seek to build upon the momentum of Wednesday’s comeback victory as they face a tough Maple Leafs team at Amalie Arena. Toronto is coming off a big win in a shootout over the Panthers and the travel that came with a trip to Tampa from Sunrise after the game.
The clubs are separated by just two points in the standings in what is a tight Atlantic Division near the midpoint of the season. These games offer an important opportunity to pick up a couple of points and a good measuring stick for the progress of both clubs as they round out 2016.