With Leaf Nation up in arms about the current five-game losing streak (although if they’d managed to hang on to the last two nail-biters, I’m sure everyone would be singing a different tune), tonight’s game in Tampa Bay has only gotten more important. The Buds need to find a way to start winning games, and more importantly, desperately need to find some freakin’ offense.
Aside from Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur, who missed several golden opportunities to bury his former team on Saturday, only Nikolai Kulemin has more than two goals. First liners Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak are tied with enforcer Colton Orr and Tim Brent for third on the team in goal scoring, and after that there’s a plethora of Leafs with a single goal each. Kulemin has been a bright spot as of late, scoring goals in each of his last three games, and is looking like he might actually be a top-six forward.
Mikhail Grabovski leads the team with seven assists, and while he’s still prone to costly errors, I can appreciate the fire and work ethic he’s demonstrated over the last few games. Apparently it hasn’t gone unnoticed by Ron Wilson, as Grabbo’s line was wearing the traditional first-line red jerseys at practice, while Kessel and his linemates were skating in second-line blue.
The defense and goaltending have been pretty solid, as the Leafs currently rank 9th in the league in goals against, but they are in the bottom third of the league in powerplay, penalty kill and scoring. Jiggy will get the start again tonight, with a 5-1-0 record against the Lightning in his career, while Korbinian Holzer will get another shot as the team’s sixth defenseman.
The Lightning will be looking to take advantage of the stumbling Leafs, after dropping three of their last four games during a Western Conference road swing. Steven Stamkos is absolutely lighting it up this year, with 11 goals and 22 assists, both of which lead the league. He also leads the team in assists with 11 helpers. Tampa Bay will get former Leaf Dominic Moore and all-around pain-in-the-ass Steve Downie back from injury tonight, but veteran winger Simon Gagne remains out of the lineup with an injured neck. Dan Ellis will get the start in net for the Bolts.
Puck drops at 7:30 at the St. Pete Times Forum. Go Leafs!