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The Leafs are in the midst of a mini slump, I mean, a loss followed by a shootout loss in a game they tanked counts as a slump at this point of the season, right?

To make matters worse the Leafs are following up last season’s Stanley Cup champions with the President’s Trophy Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. And as a wise man once said, the President’s Trophy is true test of merit (please note there is nothing in any way wise about this). 

Anyway, facing the Lightning is never a good thing, and it’s far less than ideal when your team doesn’t seem to be clicking. Perhaps it’s better we get one of the games out of the way early, learn something and move on.

Another way to look at this is by not being defeatist, and recognize the Lightning too have been slow out the gate, and while Brayden Point is returning tonight, they will have the most cobweb-y Point of the season to play against and this game will feature two fun and talented teams that want to prove something against each other.

LW C RW Forwards
Andreas Johnsson
ANDREAS JOHNSSON

Rating: 73.0#72 LW

Auston Matthews
AUSTON MATTHEWS

Rating: 81.4#5 C

William Nylander
WILLIAM NYLANDER

Rating: 73.9#35 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 76.11#18 FL1
Kasperi Kapanen
KASPERI KAPANEN

Rating: 72.2#88 LW

John Tavares
JOHN TAVARES

Rating: 79.2#10 C

Mitch Marner
MITCH MARNER

Rating: 78.8#13 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 76.73#1 FL2
Ilya Mikheyev
ILYA MIKHEYEV

Rating: 74.4#39 LW

Alexander Kerfoot
ALEXANDER KERFOOT

Rating: 72.9#84 C

Trevor Moore
TREVOR MOORE

Rating: 73.0#51 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 73.42#5 FL3
Nic Petan
NIC PETAN

Rating: 71.7#97 LW

Jason Spezza
JASON SPEZZA

Rating: 70.8#148 C

Frederik Gauthier
FREDERIK GAUTHIER

Rating: 69.2#109 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 70.56#23 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Morgan Rielly
MORGAN RIELLY

Rating: 77.6#4 LD

Cody Ceci
CODY CECI

Rating: 72.0#79 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 74.78#19 DL1
Jake Muzzin
JAKE MUZZIN

Rating: 74.7#26 LD

Tyson Barrie
TYSON BARRIE

Rating: 77.9#8 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 76.31#2 DL2
Rasmus Sandin
RASMUS SANDIN

Rating: 74.0#43 LD

Justin Holl
JUSTIN HOLL

Rating: 73.5#42 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 73.78#5 DL3
LW C RW Forwards
Steven Stamkos
STEVEN STAMKOS

Rating: 80.4#4 LW

Brayden Point
BRAYDEN POINT

Rating: 80.1#8 C

Nikita Kucherov
NIKITA KUCHEROV

Rating: 83.7#1 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 81.42#2 FL1
Ondrej Palat
ONDREJ PALAT

Rating: 72.2#87 LW

Anthony Cirelli
ANTHONY CIRELLI

Rating: 73.3#72 C

Alex Killorn
ALEX KILLORN

Rating: 73.0#79 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 72.84#27 FL2
Mathieu Joseph
MATHIEU JOSEPH

Rating: 71.6#101 LW

Tyler Johnson
TYLER JOHNSON

Rating: 72.3#101 C

Yanni Gourde
YANNI GOURDE

Rating: 73.1#48 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 72.34#13 FL3
Patrick Maroon
PATRICK MAROON

Rating: 73.2#65 LW

Carter Verhaeghe
CARTER VERHAEGHE

Rating: 74.0#58 C

Luke Witkowski
LUKE WITKOWSKI

Rating: 68.6#112 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 71.94#7 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Victor Hedman
VICTOR HEDMAN

Rating: 77.3#5 LD

Jan Rutta
JAN RUTTA

Rating: 71.5#86 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 74.39#21 DL1
Ryan McDonagh
RYAN MCDONAGH

Rating: 74.8#23 LD

Erik Cernak
ERIK CERNAK

Rating: 74.4#29 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 74.60#11 DL2
Mikhail Sergachev
MIKHAIL SERGACHEV

Rating: 74.7#25 LD

Kevin Shattenkirk
KEVIN SHATTENKIRK

Rating: 73.1#48 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 73.93#3 DL3

And now five things to watch for…

1. Will this be the Kapanen breakout game?

Here’s the thing. Pretty much every Leaf fan can appreciate some aspect of Kapanen’s game. And I firmly believe that no one has written him off and sees him as the future whipping boy for this season. That being said, he has to be better and playing with Tavares and Marner should be something that elevates Kapanen’s game, not shine a light on his limitations. That being said, I’m curious if tonight marks the end of the experiment. All three players on that line have suffered at even strength and change can do them all some good. Keeping the band together against the Lightning makes some sense, but playing against the Red Wings should allow for the Leafs to try something new without risking too much. If things don’t get better tonight, I’d reasonably expect things to be addressed by the weekend.

2. Sandin’s toughest competition

Not that the Blues are any slouches, but the Lightning are much more deep offensively and there’s no place to hide your third pairing against a team like this. Sandin’s been solid at what has been thrown at him, but a best case scenario of seeing a ton of Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde still poses a good threat, though one he’ll likely be facing with Martin Marincin, who has been his stronger partner this year.

3. Andersen vs. Vasilevskiy

Andersen has had a slow start to the year, though it’s worth pointing out that slow start includes a .918 save percentage. Historically October is Andersen’s second worst month for save percentage, only preceded by March (OVERWORKED ALERT!!!) and if his struggles include have a GSAA of 1.19 he’s doing okayish. So far he’s only had one quality start out of three, and has been good for one true stinker every game. The Lightning will give him a lot of work, and hopefully that work acts as a slump buster.

As for Vasilevskiy, his numbers have been worse than Andersen’s this year. So maybe we ease up on our beautiful Danish ginger.

4. Was Matthews inspired by James Neal?

No one should be happy by what’s going on in Edmonton outside of people who live in Edmonton. Even then, you’d think the decade+ of darkness would have trained them to know reality will eventually kick in. That said, James Neal currently sits a top the league in goal scoring, and I wonder if the Leafs part time alternate captain will let that stand. Maybe the Lightning aren’t the most likely of teams for Auston to light up, but if the Leafs are going to be a top tier team this year, he can’t just beat up on Ottawa and Columbus.

5. Brayden Point’s return means the Lightning are a fully operational Death Star

The interesting thing about this is that the Lightning aren’t quite as intimidating as they were last season. Sure Point, Hedman, Kucherov, Stamkos, and Vasilevskiy should still scare the crap out of us, but some of the high calibre depth like J.T. Miller and Anton Stralman has disappeared without replacement, and that’s a positive. The Leafs did a better job of holding firm on their keeping their talent on their roster this season, and possibly upgraded in some cases. The Lightning may have had more to work with, but the Leafs could be closing the gap and on their best day could compete with the Lightning for top of the division/conference/league. Hopefully tonight shows that.

The game starts tonight at 7PM ET and can be seen on Sportsnet Ontario.


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