Question: Who doesn’t love a good troll job?
Answer: Half of the Leafs Nation proper, as evidenced by the troll job being executed today by the other half of Leafs Nation proper.
This game is going to be an absolute disaster off the ice, which is normally something that I honestly don’t care about – but every Tampa Bay-Toronto matchup this year is going to just fuel the Stamkos to Toronto flames, which is delightfully hilarious and fun to watch.
The Lightning have been somewhat spectacularly underperforming this season; where they were expected to fly out of the gate and take command of the top of the Eastern Conference standings, they’ve actually spent a chunk of the season sitting out of a playoff position altogether. Right now, they’re actually fifth in the Atlantic, with three points separating them from the fourth place Boston Bruins and another ten points between them and the first-place Montreal Canadiens.
Across the ice, the Leafs haven’t exactly been underperforming – they were just never expected to be all that excellent in the first place, as they’re in the first year of a rebuild. Anything they do short of absolutely sucking and throwing jerseys at fans is going to be accepted with a somewhat relative level of grace, since this is what we asked for.
That being said, the Leafs have been beating teams they have no business beating this year, and Tampa Bay has been admittedly struggling. If Stamkos wants a taste of what it’s like to see his future franchise beat his current one, tonight could be the night.
Mixed in among everything else, of course, is that Frank Corrado is getting his first game as a Leaf. No pressure, Frankie, it’s not like this game is being watching by half the nation or anything.
I could talk about the rest of the lines Tampa Bay is icing, but let’s be real. There’s only one player that matters on that team, and it’s Steven Stamkos.
All joking aside, injuries have made the Lightning an interesting roster to look at. The triplets have been split up due to the aforementioned injuries, and Stamkos is now centring one of them (Nikita Kucherov) and the ever-delightful Vladislav Namestnikov. Namestnikov spent last season sliding up and down in the lineup for Tampa Bay, so seeing him getting top line minutes is interesting – and if you don’t get a little tingle thinking about watching Victor Hedman play defense, you probably hate fun.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have continued to pair up Leo Komarov and Nazem Kadri, to what seems to be the club’s ultimate benefit; Komarov is at 10 goals and 16 points on the year for a personal best in goals scored.
The team has opted to split up their top producing forwards, though, with Bozak playing alongside JVR and the Kadri-Komarov pairing playing with Peter Holland.
Do I care about Peter Holland? Not much. Do I care about P.A. Parenteau? Not at all. Am I as eager for the Byron Froese experiment to end as you are? Of course.
Oh… and then there’s the whole goalie situation. Let’s get to that.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are starting Jonathan Bernier in hopes of seeing his first NHL win of the year, following two weeks spent with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies just up the road.
Many of you know that I’ve never hated Bernier’s play, and his three shutouts in four games with the Marlies suggests that he may have finally shaken off the demons he was battling to start out the year. The bad news is that Bernier’s one non-shutout saw him allow five goals, but let’s forget about that.
Across the ice, I thought there would be one very tall, very controversial goaltender in Ben Bishop, while backup Andrei Vasilevskiy sat on the bench in his first game back up from his own stint in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch following a less than stellar start to the season.
Instead, Vasilevskiy is getting the start – which is good for Tampa Bay if he plays well, but could also be what seals the game for Toronto if he still hasn’t gotten his groove back.
I wish I had something definitive to say about the goaltending battle tonight, but I don’t. Both Vasilesvkiy and Bernier, in theory, have a structurally sound way of playing – but haven’t been all ‘there’ in their own games this year, allowing goals they has no reason to allow and making costly mistakes within the first few minutes of the game.
Translation? If you’re a goalie fan, this game might give you hives.
STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS.
STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS. STAM-KOS.