Toronto Maple Leafs (31-23-14, 17th in NHL) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (34-26-9, 16th in NHL)
Puck drop: 7:30 p.m. EST
Arena: Amalie Arena
Watch: Sportsnet Ontario
Game Day Notes
– With the Chicago Blackhawks (8-2-0 in L10), Boston Bruins (8-2-0 in L10) and Columbus Blue Jackets (7-2-1 in L10) up next on the schedule, the Maple Leafs badly need a bounce-back performance in a huge four-point game against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7-2-1 in L10) on Thursday night. Tampa Bay is currently one point ahead of the Leafs in the wildcard race with one less game remaining.
– According to Sports Club Stats, a win tonight in regulation would improve the Leafs’ playoff odds by 13.9% (to over 50% again), while a regulation loss would slash their odds by 12.1% — a massive 26% swing.
– Acquired for a second round pick at the March 1 deadline — at the time, the Leafs were five points ahead of the Lightning — Brian Boyle returns to Tampa Bay with his former team now ahead of the Leafs in the standings. That comes despite losing Boyle as well as a host of injuries down the middle (Steven Stamkos, more recently Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette). Former Leafs Greg McKegg and Byron Froese are currently filling holes at center in the Lightning’s bottom six.
– Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov has ten goals and 20 points during the team’s 7-2-1 run, making him the NHL’s most dangerous player in the last calendar month, while Victor Hedman has ten points over those ten games.
– Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is 5-0-1 with a .956 save percentage in his last six starts.
– No lineup changes are expected up front for the Leafs, going by the morning skate, but it appears as though Mike Babcock will rejig his defence pairs, with Alexey Marchenko drawing back in. The Leafs have allowed 65 goals in 20 games since the start of February (3.25/game, 26th in the NHL).
Morning Skate: Mike Babcock
Mike, you’ve coached in some big games in your career. This is a regular season game, but big nonetheless.
Babcock: Yeah, I mean, let’s keep things in perspective, but it is a big game for our team. They’ve played one more game than us, and so have the Islanders. We’re playing a team that is ahead of us by one point in the standings. We both find ourselves, at the moment, out of the playoffs. You want to be in the playoffs. These are our opportunities. This is what we set up our whole year around, is trying to be in these games down the stretch. We thought it would be unbelievable development for our team. Obviously, our goal is to get our way in. In order to do that, you’ve got to beat good teams, and you’ve got to do it at crunch time in the year. You’ve got to handle the opportunity and deliver.
What’s the key to a good bounce-back performance for your team tonight?
Babcock: We have to. Anybody who saw the game — whether you were at the game or watching it on TV — knows we let ourselves down. So, I’m looking for a huge response. Their team knows it’s a big game, too. We’re going to have to play well. Let’s execute and do the things we’re supposed to do and compete at a high level. Last game, that never happened.
Coach, you’ve got to give to get. You’ve got Boyle, they’ve got Byron Froese. What do you remember of what he did for you last year?
Babcock: Froese was good. He was leading our minor league team in scoring this year, too. Froese is a good kid. He’s a real, hard, good, honest player. He got hurt for us last year, but in the early going, he was good in the circle for us and worked real hard. We really liked Froese. He’s a good man, does things right. Obviously, good for their team. He’s up now because of injuries. But, obviously, Boyle is a guy who — in a short period of time — we’re trying to tap a lot of his information from him as players. He’s been around so many playoff games. He’s such a good guy. Stammer made a point of going out of his way to tell me this morning what a good teammate he is and what a good pro he is. We’re looking for that to rub off on our guys.
Kadri, obviously, was among the guys who could’ve had a better game last game. How valuable do you think he’s going to be down the stretch for you guys?
Babcock: Well, he has to be. All you’ve got to do is look at our big guys. They had a tough night to say the least. We need those guys to be good players. Your best players have got to be your best players. Your leadership group has go to lead. So he’s got to step up.
Mike — what are the ethics in terms of coaching and having a guy like Boyle, who played so recently for Tampa? When you bring a guy in like that, do you say, “what do you guys do in your own end? What do you try to do on the power play?”
Babcock: You already know because you have so much video that you watch and you just watch their practice this morning. I know [Jon Cooper] really good, so I know anyway. But, I mean, any kind of nuance you can get, why wouldn’t you get? We’re trying to win. I think you can do things ethically and try to win at the same time. So, whatever.
Statistics courtesy of SportingCharts.com
|Home Winning %||0.606||0.583|
|Away Winning %||0.5||0.486|
|Shootout Winning %||0.111||0.571|
|Goal Differential Per Game||0.1||0.04|
|Shot Differential Per Game||-0.16||-0.36|
|Hits Per Game||24.3||21.9|
|PIM Per Game||9.8||11|
|Opponent PIM Per Game||10||11.3|
|Goals Per Game||3.01||2.71|
|Even Strength Goals Per Game||2.24||1.9|
|Power Play Goals Per Game||0.71||0.77|
|Shots Per Game||32.5||29.9|
|Shots Per Goal||10.8||11|
|Team Shooting %||0.093||0.091|
|Power Play %||0.235||0.225|
|Goals Against Per Game||2.91||2.67|
|ES Goals Against Per Game||2.29||1.97|
|PP Goals Against Per Game||0.54||0.62|
|Shots Against Per Game||32.71||30.29|
|Shots Against Per Goal||11.23||11.36|
|Opp. Team Shooting %||0.089||0.088|
|Penalty Kill %||0.829||0.809|
|Goals Against Average||2.86||2.63|
|Opponent Save %||0.907||0.909|
|Opponent Goals Against Average||2.97||2.67|
- William Nylander: five points (one goal, four assists) during five-game points streak
- Mitch Marner: six points (two goals, four assists) in last six games
- Tyler Bozak: seven points (two goals, five assists) in last six games
- Nikita Kucherov: 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in last 10 games
- Victor Hedman: 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in last 18 games
- Brayden Point: two goals in Tuesday’s win over the New York Rangers
- Ondrej Palat: three points (one goal, two assists) in last three games
- Jonathan Drouin: three points (three assists) in last three games
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
Leo Komarov – Nazem Kadri – Connor Brown
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitchell Marner
Matt Martin – Brian Boyle – Nikita Soshnikov
Morgan Rielly – Alexey Marchenko
Jake Gardiner – Nikita Zaitsev
Matt Hunwick – Roman Polak
Starter: Frederik Andersen (Confirmed)
Backup: Curtis McElhinney
Scratched: Ben Smith, Martin Marincin, Josh Leivo, Eric Fehr
Injured: Connor Carrick (upper body)
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
Ondrej Palat – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Yanni Gourde – Jonathan Drouin
Gabriel Dumont – Greg McKegg – J.T. Brown
Adam Erne – Byron Froese – Luke Witkowski
Victor Hedman – Jake Dotchin
Jason Garrison – Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn – Andrej Sustr
Starter: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Confirmed)
Backup: Peter Budaj
Injured: Steven Stamkos (knee surgery), Ryan Callahan (hip), Tyler Johnson (lower body), Cedric Paquette (lower body), Vladislav Namestnikov (lower body)