The Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m., SNO) in their first game in a week, amid some Toronto media fuelled drama regarding Steven Stamkos’ liking of a tweet (henceforth referred to as #Stammergeddon)
It has been remarkably quiet on the scandal front for the Maple Leafs this season, and that is surely down to management’s forthrightness in their plans to rebuild and their coach’s consistent message preparing the fanbase for “pain.” The declining TV numbers are certainly a reflection of the lowered expectations.
In a more tepid Leafs media environment, it’s no surprise, then, that all it took was a “slip” of the Stamkos’ thumb one millimetre left or right on twitter before stories were running on all the major broadcast stations, sports highlights shows and major newspapers.
“Should they/shouldn’t sign Stamkos?”
“What about the rebuild!?
“What about his cap hit!?”
Culminating in this:
‘Sign Stamkos’ signs are being handed out tonight in Toronto https://t.co/m0etWfdZiC
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) December 15, 2015
It’s Lou Lamoriello’s first experience with mass hysteria in the market, and it’s a good one to get his feet wet with.
Tonight is not without its non-rumour mill related storylines. Toronto sits dead last in the NHL — 30th place — which, for the rebuild, is great news. Their start to the season sealed their fate, but they’ve started to play their best hockey of late, coming on strong for a team with limited abilities in the goal-scoring department.
5-4-1 in their last ten, Toronto won their last two against the St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils. Tampa is 6-4-0 in their last ten, and their most recent win was against Columbus last night, meaning they will be a tired opponent facing a (very) rested home side who hasn’t played in exactly one whole week.
That could be a blessing or a curse, as it will be a challenge for the Maple Leafs to get their legs under them — and to think and play at game speed again — in the first period especially.
With James Reimer still sidelined with a groin injury, Jonathan Bernier returns from a 3-1-0 conditioning-stint reset with the mindset that this is a fresh start to his season.
Joffrey Lupul is expected to return from injury, and will be slotted in the right wing of the fourth line as Babcock looks to ease him up to speed.
#FreeFrankieCorrado comes to an end tonight, at least for the time being, as he is expected to make his debut. He’s extremely low on game reps and this is not the easiest of circumstances playing on his off side, so expectations should be kept in check.
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lineup
Vladislav Namestnikov – Steven Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Brian Boyle – Jonathan Marchessault
J.T. Brown – Valtteri Filppula – Ryan Callahan
Joel Vermin – Yanni Gourde – Brian Boyle – Mike Blunden
Anton Stralman – Victor Hedman
Jason Garrison – Matthew Carle
Braydon Coburn – Andrej Sustr
Injured: Erik Condra (lower body), Cedric Paquette (upper body), Tyler Johnson (undisclosed), Jonathan Drouin (lower body), Ondrej Palat (undisclosed)
Scratched: Nikita Nesterov
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lineup
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Peter Holland – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Michael Grabner – Nick Spaling – Daniel Winnik
Shawn Matthias – Byron Froese – Joffrey Lupul
Jake Gardiner – Dion Phaneuf
Matt Hunwick – Morgan Rielly
Frank Corrado – Roman Polak
Injured: Stephane Robidas (groin), James Reimer (lower body)
Scratched: Martin Marincin, Brad Boyes