When Steven Stamkos went down, I think too many people were willing to write off the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos is many things: he’s a generational talent, probably the best scorer in the game, a deserving Olympian and, as it turns out, pretty inconsequential to the success of the Lightning.
Not to say the Bolts are better off without Stamkos, but Steve Yzerman has built up his minor league system with so many young, skilled players that the difference isn’t felt that much. When a player gets injured, you don’t lose his production entirely—you lose the difference between that player and whoever his replacement is, and as it turns out, Stamkos’ replacement on the top line, Tyler Johnson, is having a fine season and has been red hot lately.
Like the Leafs, however, the reason for Tampa Bay’s record lies between the pipes: Ben Bishop leads all NHL starting goalies in save percentage.
|Corsi Close %||51.8% (9th)||43.0% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.45 (8th)||2.23 (18th)|
|5v5 GA/60||1.79 (4th)||2.45 (22nd)|
|5v5 Diff/60||+0.66 (5th)||-0.21 (18th)|
|PDO||101.7 (5th)||101.3 (6th)|
|5v4 GF/60||6.27 (16th)||7.85 (4th)|
|5v4 SF/60||40.9 (29th)||54.3 (8th)|
|4v5 GA/60||7.37 (27th)||7.05 (24th)|
|4v5 SA/60||54.9 (22nd)||62.0 (30th)|
|Penalty Differential||-6 (18th)||-11 (23rd)|
The Lightning aren’t without weaknesses, and special teams are going to be key again. Tampa, like Toronto, struggle to draw more penalties than they take, and even when Stamkos was in the lineup, didn’t really threaten on the powerplay with him on the ice (Stamkos is 9th among 15 Tampa Bay players in on-ice goals per 60 on the PP).
If anybody, it’s Nikita Kucherov stirring the drink for the Bolts with the man advantage. Like Stamkos, he has a killer shot. The issue for the Bolts and special teams isn’t the powerplay, however, it’s the penalty kill. Their entire team seems to struggle killing penalties. That’s where the Leafs will need to hit them tonight, I figure, as long as Jonathan Bernier can shut the door at even strength.
This will be the first time the Leafs see the Lightning this season, and believe me when I say, Tampa is a strong-looking team.
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – Nikolai Kulemin
Mason Raymond – Peter Holland – Troy Bodie
Carter Ashton – Jay McClement – Colt Knorr
Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Tim Gleason – Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner – Morgan Rielly
No changes here, despite a two-game losing streak. I approve.
For Tampa Bay:
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Martin St. Louis
Alex Killorn – Valtteri Filppula – Teddy Purcell
Nikita Kucherov – Nate Thompson – J.T. Brown
Ryan Malone – B.J. Crombeen
Victor Hedman – Sami Salo
Matt Carle – Radko Gudas
Mark Barberio – Eric Brewer
Going with the seven defencemen. You may recognize Keith Aulie as the one-time “best piece of the Dion Phaneuf deal” (whoops) eventually traded for Carter Ashton.
Starting goalies are Jonathan Bernier and Ben Bishop. After stealing two games on the first half of the road trip, both Bernier and James Reimer were pulled in consecutive games on the back half. Toronto played a good game against Winnipeg, but it will be more difficult to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning without a strong performance from the goaltender.
The Leafs and the Lightning face off at 7:00 p.m. on TSN. It’s #BellLetsTalk day, so if you’re on a Bell phone, please text your score predictions to your friends.