The mood is decidedly more optimistic for the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into Thursday’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
The Maple Leafs have won three straight games, emerging from an early-season slump and they have shuffled their lineup in recent games, helping to spark the improved results. They are 5-4-1 through the first 10 games of the season.
In Tuesday’s win over Vegas, Mitch Marner had three points, matching his production going into the game, and Auston Matthews buried a pair of goals, his second and third goals of the season.
On the blueline, the Maple Leafs have turned to new defence pairings and it seems to be working. Timothy Liljegren has stepped in for Justin Holl, who is expected to be a healthy scratch for a third straight game. Liljegren has excelled as part of a third pairing with Rasmus Sandin.
The one question on the blueline is that Travis Dermott is a game-time decision against Tampa Bay. He suffered a lower-body injury and missed most of the second period against Vegas but did return for the third. Holl would get back into the lineup if Dermott can’t go.
The Maple Leafs have called up defenceman Kristians Rubins from the Toronto Marlies. The 23-year-old Latvian blueliner has three points (1 G, 2 A) in six AHL games.
While the Maple Leafs ought to be feeling better now than they might have a week ago it is important to note that wins against Chicago, Detroit, and an injury-depleted Vegas squad is not a sign that everything is right in Leafland. There are some bigger tests coming, starting with this game against the Lightning.
Here are the Toronto Maple Leafs’ expected lines for Game #11 vs. Tampa Bay
Bunting – Matthews – Nylander
Kerfoot – Tavares – Marner
Engvall – Kampf – Kase
Ritchie – Spezza – Simmonds
Rielly – Dermott
Muzzin – Brodie
Sandin – Liljegren
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning come into Thursday’s game having won three straight and their record is 5-3-1.
The Lightning are missing star right winger Nikita Kucherov, who is expected to be out until mid-to-late December with a lower-body injury.
Still, Tampa Bay has quality scoring forwards at the top of the depth chart. They did, however, lose forwards Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow in the offseason and that has made it more difficult for the Lightning to find quality forward depth.
Defenceman Jan Rutta is out of the lineup as well, but the Lightning are running a defence corps that is similar to their forward group – top-heavy but with questionable depth.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is great but has a .915 save percentage in eight starts, which is not quite to his typical standard.
This will be a good test for the Maple Leafs because even if this Lightning team is not in prime Stanley Cup form, it is a team with a lot of talent and obviously has the pedigree of back-to-back championships.
Killorn – Point – Cirelli
Palat – Stamkos – Barre-Boulet
Maroon – Colton – Perry
Joseph – Bellemare – Raddysh
Hedman – Sergachev
McDonagh – Cernak
Foote – Sustr
Watch on TSN and listen on Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto.
Not a member? Subscribe to TorontoHockeyNow today and get $10 dollars off our subscription fee of $39.99 for access to all four Canadian sites. Use promo code “Maple Leafs” to get $10 off!