Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning: 7:00pm
Watch On: TSN4
Opponent’s Site: Raw Charge

The Toronto Maple Leafs are facing off against the Tampa Bay Lightening tonight, back at home after an underwhelming performance on the Pacific coast. It looks like Keefe was in agreement with most of us about those three games not being worth staying up for, though, because yesterday’s practice saw a lot of changes, including the reunion of the Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander line.

I’m not gonna lie – I am excited about this one. Hyman has been having a great season, having already tied last year’s (career high) of 21 goals in 21 less games played (thanks in no small part to a shooting percentage of 20.2% but whatever, sustainability’s for chumps). He’s also just very Zach Hyman, wherever you put him in the lineup, as stalwart and reliable as [insert whatever metaphor people are currently throwing around about him]. As for his old/new linemates, William “new career high in goals with games to spare” Nylander and Auston “I will physically fight Pastrnak for the Rocket” Matthews, I think we all know how their seasons are going. We’ve seen this line perform well in previous seasons, and given the kind of season that all three of these players are on, reuniting them at this point seems like the sort of strategic decision that might yield some pretty spectacular results. Last year they went on a monster run at the end of the season, when Nylander finally got his legs back under him and was put back with Matthews... here’s to a repeat of that.

As for what that does to the other lines, it does break-up my favourite third line of Pierre Engvall, Alexander Kerfoot, and Kasperi Kapanen in favour of slotting in Kapanen at left wing alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner which is... a choice. When is Mikheyev back again?

Ok so soon, but not yet, and in the meantime this is the second line we’re going with for at least one game. I think Kapanen has proven himself a lot more effective as a third liner, where he can run roughshod over the competition, than when he’s placed anywhere in the top six, but hard times make for strange bedfellows, etc. I’m not sure that Kapanen will be the magic ingredient to bolster the somewhat faltering John Tavares or Mitch Marner either, but you never know! There is also the chance that Tavares and Marner manage to recapture the magic of the absolute tear they went on last season and Kapanen becomes a non-factor on that line.

The last, most exciting, bit of news to come out of yesterday’s practice is the return of everyone’s favourite defenseman!

He’s still not confirmed to be playing tonight but WOW have I missed Morgan Rielly.

The Leafs certainly have as well – with him and Ceci both back in the lineup the defensive pairings are looking a lot more like an NHL defensive group, and less like a remix of the 2018 Calder Cup Champion Toronto Marlies. It does put Holl and Dermott on a pairing together, which is a slightly chaotic and alarming option but honestly, I’ll take it and then some. If Rielly doesn’t draw in after all, either Marincin or Rosen will be taking his spot.

As for the Lightning, the last time the Leafs faced them was down in Florida, when the Leafs beat the hometown team 4-3. That game also took out Stamkos for the Lightning, and Muzzin for the Leafs. More recently, on Sunday the Lightning lost in the shootout to the Detroit Red Wings, which doesn’t actually mean much in terms of their overall skill and ability to win games, but is still kinda fun to see. Since this very well could be a preview of what we have to look forward to in the playoffs, the Leafs will need to shake off whatever happened when they flew to the East coast and prove that they have what it takes to make it to the first round and beyond. Though if we do end up facing the Lightning, I vote that one of us changes our jersey colour. St. Pats for the playoffs, anyone?

Go Leafs!

Maple Leafs Lines
Based on Monday’s practice

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Kasperi Kapanen - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Pierre Engvall - Alex Kerfoot - Denis Malgin
Kyle Clifford - Frederik Gauthier - Jason Spezza

Morgan Rielly - Cody Ceci
Travis Dermott - Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin - Tyson Barrie
Calle Rosen - Martin Marincin

Frederik Andersen
Jack Campbell

Lightning Lines
via the Daily Faceoff

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Blake Coleman - Anthony Cirelli - Alex Killorn
Carter Verhaeghe - Barclay Goodrow - Tyler Johnson
Pat Maroon - Cedric Paquette - Yanni Gourde

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Kevin Shattenkirk
Luke Schenn - Zach Bogosian

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Curtis McElhinney

Updated lines shows both teams have a blender:

It is confirmed that Victor Hedman is not playing.