It’s funny to consider just how far the Toronto Maple Leafs have fallen from the tree that is the cream of the crop in the NHL. What a witty little analogy that was. To start the season, everything that could go right for the Leafs, was going right for the Leafs. They were getting solid goaltending from James Reimer, timely scoring from the top line and great defensive play from their six guys. Now fast forward a little bit and that team is just about as much of a mess as it was last year. Okay, I actually won’t go so far as to assert that, but it’s getting close.
Toronto Maple Leafs: 18-15-5
Tampa Bay Lightning: 17-17-3
December was not a kind month for anyone in the Leafs’ system, other than Ron Wilson who candidly announced a contract extension on Christmas Day. Nice timing, Ron; stay classy! After winning only 4 games out of 13 in the month, you would have thought that Burkie would hold off on signing the coach to a big time extension.
The Bolts head into the Air Canada Center with one of the worst road records in the league at 6-12-3. That said, Toronto’s home record isn’t all that stellar, 8-5-4. Something is going to have to give between these two teams as one group will walk out of the game with a victory.
With all those facts behind us, it’s time to really start looking at this game from the Lightning point of view. They say every game in this league is important and while that’s true, some games are more important than others. Take this game into consideration. The Leafs are currently 4 points up on the Bolts. After the game, that gap could be as small as two points or as large as 6. This is a 4 point swing game.
This game is really a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Leafs, 3-5-2 in their last 10, are digging themselves a big hole quite quickly. On the other hand, the Lightning, who have managed some solid efforts over the last two weeks, find themselves with a record of 6-3-1 in their last 10. Consider that earlier in the season the Leafs were right at the top of the Eastern Conference and the Lightning were struggling to breath from the basement. Things are changing; am I the only one who can hear the tides shifting?
The Lightning will have a shot at passing the Buffalo Sabres tomorrow night. If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is. With each passing victory, the Lightning find themselves that much closer to an elusive playoff spot. Remember a time back in early December when we all thought the playoffs were the longest of long shots. Well, now, the post-season is slowly looking like it could be a reality. A win against the Maple Leafs will go a long way in ensuring that we have a real shot at this going down the stretch.
Mike’s Look at the Leafs
The Maple Leafs simply haven’t been the same since James Reimer came back from concussion. Reimer doesn’t look like the perennial all-star who singlehandedly lifted the Leafs into the playoff race post-all-star break last season. Right now, he looks like an average goalie, playing behind an average defense on an average team. Well, news flash: average teams don’t make the playoffs in the NHL these days. The real way to beat this Leafs team is to draw them into a scrappy game. The second that team starts taking penalties, the game is over. My scratch-and-win winning percentage is higher than the Leafs’ penalty killing percentage. It’s almost embarrassing to see the Leafs continue to struggle year after year. You would think that Wilson and his coaching staff would be able to find some combination of players that works, wouldn’t you?
Mike’s Look at the Bolts
As I said, this is a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen some really hard fought performances from the Bolts. Of course, we have also seen some lackluster performances. With that said, why am I so high on the Bolts then? Well, the answer is simple. Right now, the Bolts are finding ways to win right now. That’s the single most important thing in this league. If a team can find ways to win games that it has no business winning on a regular basis (see Philly, Montreal), the post-season is almost a lock. Right now, the Bolts are playing with such confidence and skill that they really do look untouchable. I haven’t felt this good about the team all season long.
Well there you have my pre-game rant on the Leafs and Bolts. I hope that you all enjoy the game tomorrow as much as I surely will! Now, onto my weekly rumor round-up.
It’s time for this week’s Bolts Rumor Round-Up! For those of you who don’t know what my rumor round-ups contain, here’s a quick synopsis. Each of these weekly segments contains rumors found here on Hockeybuzz and from other sources. If the Lightning have been linked to said player, or team, I’ll note that. Other than that, I’ll take players who are in the rumor mill and explain why I think the Lightning should make a push for whoever it is. Without further ado, here is the first Bolts Rumor Round-Up of 2012; enjoy!
I’m not sure there is a team in the league that has been linked to Dustin Penner. Since arriving in Los Angeles, Penner has been a huge disappointment. He hasn’t scored, he hasn’t used his size and he seemingly hasn’t cared. So, why on earth do I think the Lightning should target him? Well, it’s simple. Rumor has it that the Kings have been pushing incredibly hard to get rid of Penner. That means that whatever team makes an offer for him is in a position of power. Enter the Lightning. Let’s say the Bolts were to make an offer to take the guy off their hands. Included in that deal you could put a young D-man like Slava Voynov. Think about it for a second. Penner will be a UFA in a short period of time. Why not take a risk and trade for him, and acquire a GREAT young defenseman to build around for years to come? Plus, you never know, Penner might work out playing with some of the great offensive stars in the game.
The Hockey News linked the Bolts to Ray Emery out of Chicago. To me, this one actually makes perfect sense. Unfortunately for Roloson, acquiring Emery would mean the end of his short time in Florida. Putting Emery and Garon together creates a sense of competition in net that should only breed good things. Both guys can get hot at times and are very capable net minders. As we’ve seen over the last week or so, Garon is really capable of being a number one goalie. However, he will need his rest. Right now, Roloson isn’t the guy to put in there. Could Emery be our saving grace?
Thanks for reading and have a great day!
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