The Toronto Maple Leafs kick off a brief tour of the Sunshine State when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight before taking on the Florida Panthers tomorrow. Unfortunately for both clubs, their offensive capabilities have been absent from the hockey party as of late and each are on a losing streak (Leafs – 5 games, Lightning – 3 games). Tampa Bay has only scored four goals in their last three games, while the Leafs have recently put together a pair of shootout losses and have 8 goals in their last three games but have been unable to play a solid full 60 minutes to earn the victories. They will look to improve on that effort tonight.
The Leafs are currently on a 1-5-3 stretch since opening the season 4-0-0. During that time, they have been outscored 23-15, and with a goals against average of 2.875, it’s clear where their shortcomings have derived from.
“We got some people that need to dig in and try to create some scoring chances, and not just sit back and wait for something easy,” coach Ron Wilson said. “At some point, it will start to click in and we’ll see the results we expect.”
There are a few positives on the club as forward Nikolai Kulemin, who has scored a goal in each of the Leafs last three games, has certainly found chemistry with second line centerman Mikhail Grabovski, and have lead many to believe that a line of Kulemin, Grabovski and Phil Kessel could be the most dangerous combination the Leafs have yet to try. The Leafs have been looking for the right fit for a playmaking center and it seems Grabovski has been remoulding his game to adhere to that absence on the roster. He leads the team in plus/minus with a +8, averaging 18:23 time on ice per game, and has been aggressive on his pursuit and priority to back check.
There is one major concern in the game for the Leafs and that is the play of young sniper and former first overall pick Steven Stamkos. His 11 goals and 11 assists top the point totals of the Leafs top scorers – Clarke MacArthur (11 points) and Phil Kessel (9 points). If the Leafs want to come out on top in this game, they’ll have to shut down the pairing of Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. You can expect Luke Schenn will see some serious moments against these two tonight.
Who’s Hot? Toronto:
Tomas Kaberle 3 pts in last 2 GP
Mikhail Grabovski 3 pts in last 2 GP
Nikolai Kulemin 3 pts in last 3 GP
Kris Versteeg 3 pts in last 3 GP
Clarke MacArthur 3 pts in last 3 GP
Jean-Sebastien Giguere 1-2-1, 2.00, .921 in last 4 GPI
Who’s Hot? Tampa Bay:
Steven Stamkos 16 pts in last 9 GP
Martin St. Louis 8 pts in last 7 GP
Vincent Lecavalier 3 pts in last 3 GP
Dan Ellis 2-0-1, 1.06, .961 in last 3 GPI
Who’s Cold? Toronto:
Phil Kessel 0 pts in last 5 GP
Who’s Cold? Tampa Bay:
Mattias Ohlund 0 pts in last 5 GP
Pavel Kubina 0 pts in last 4 GP
Steve Downie 0 pts in last 3 GP
Mike Smith 0-2-0, 3.02, .908 in last 2 GPI
The action gets underway tonight at 7:30 PM EST. I will not be liveblogging tonight’s game, but I will be liveblogging tomorrow night’s affair with the Florida Panthers. Here’s hoping the skid ends tonight!
Micheal A. Aldred