Maple Leafs-Lightning Preview

After extending their postseason droughts in 2009-10, the Tampa

Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs each got off to a strong

start this season.

Lately, though, both teams have also been struggling

offensively.

When they meet Tuesday night, the Maple Leafs will try to snap a

five-game skid, while Lightning will attempt to avoid a fourth

consecutive loss in their return home from a difficult Western road

trip.

Tampa Bay (7-4-2) hasn’t reached the postseason since 2007 but

made some early progress under new general manager Steve Yzerman

and first-year coach Guy Boucher.

The Lightning opened the season 3-0 and were 6-2-1 before

heading West. The trip got off to a good start with a 3-0 victory

over Phoenix, but they finished 0-2-1 while getting outscored

9-4.

After a pair of one-goal defeats, Tampa Bay was handled 5-2 by

San Jose on Saturday night.

“It was the end of a nine-day road trip, and it took a lot out

of us,” Boucher said. “We got a lot of shots. Opportunities were

there.”

Boucher’s club should get some help with center Dominic Moore

expected to return from a groin injury. Steve Downie, though, is

questionable with an ailing back that he played with Saturday, and

Simon Gagne remains out with a neck injury.

The Lightning probably could use the help as they’re in the

middle of a 21-game stretch that features just six at home.

“When you look at the schedule, it’s a little scary,” Boucher

said. “Right now, it’s just trying to get out of this jungle

alive.”

In their return to the St. Pete Times Forum, the Lightning will

take on a Maple Leafs club still finding their identity. Toronto

(5-5-3), which hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2004, has been

outscored 23-15 during a 1-5-3 stretch after tallying 16 goals

during a 4-0 start.

After scoring four times during a shootout loss to Washington on

Wednesday, the Maple Leafs couldn’t build on an early 2-0 lead

against Buffalo on Saturday. That allowed the Sabres to tie it with

13.1 seconds left and hand Toronto another shootout defeat.

The Maple Leafs’ top line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Kris

Versteeg has especially struggled, accounting for two goals during

the current 0-3-2 skid.

“We got some people that need to dig in and try to create some

scoring chances, and not just sit back and wait for something

easy,” coach Ron Wilson said. “At some point, it will start to

click in and we’ll see the results we expect.”

While his team has struggled, Nikolai Kulemin has a goal in

three consecutive games. Tampa Bay’s league-leading scorer Steven

Stamkos, meanwhile, has continued his red-hot start.

Stamkos had three goals and an assist during the road trip,

giving him 11 goals and 11 assists. He has two goals and five

assists in his last three games against Toronto, but Tampa Bay lost

two of those.

The Maple Leafs are 3-0-2 in their last five against the

Lightning, but Tampa Bay is 3-1-1 at home with 20 goals scored

there this season. Toronto is 0-2-1 in its last three road contests

while being outscored 11-6.

The last five games between the teams have each been decided by

one goal or via shootout.