Stamkos returns to Toronto when Lightning visit Leafs
TORONTO -- Steven Stamkos makes his first return to Toronto on Tuesday night after electing to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the offseason rather than entertain an offer from the Maple Leafs.
Five games into the 2016-17 season and it appears Stamkos made the right decision. The 26-year-old center has three goals and two assists and the Bolts sit second in the Atlantic Division behind only the Montreal Canadiens with a 4-1-0 record.
The Markham, Ontario native signed an eight-year, $68 million deal in June prior to becoming an unrestricted free agent.
"I made the decision to stay with the team that drafted me and brought me up as an 18-year-old kid and it's my second home now," Stamkos said. "There's no regrets and I'm looking forward to hopefully winning another hockey game here on our road trip.
"This year, having the contract done, there's no distractions, just coming to the rink with a clear mind and that's something as an athlete sometimes you take for granted: just being able to come to the rink and have fun doing what you're doing and help your team in anyway you can."
Tampa Bay is currently in the middle of a six-game, 11-day road trip, which began with a 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
The Maple Leafs limp home to Air Canada Centre following a three-game road trip, which saw Toronto lose in Winnipeg, Minnesota and Chicago while picking up two of a possible six points.
The Maple Leafs will have a familiar face in the lineup as they begin a brief two-game home stand on Tuesday after claiming Ben Smith off waivers from the Colorado Avalanche.
Smith, a 28-year-old forward, appeared in 16 games with Toronto last season and another five games with their American Hockey League affiliate before signing with the Avs as a free agent in in the offseason.
"(Smith) gives us a right-hand faceoff guy, can penalty kill too," said Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. "That was a concern for us. (Zach) Hyman and Leo (Komarov) are taking all the draws for us and they don't play center so (we) want to shore that up."
In order to make room for Smith on the roster, Toronto placed veteran forward Milan Michalek on waivers on Monday. If he clears, the 31-year-old will report to the club's AHL affiliate.
Toronto won its lone home game this season, defeating the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Oct. 15, but are 1-1-3 five games into the season and sit seventh in the Metropolitan Division.
"The 'red flag' is the goals-against," said Babcock. "I like that we score lots, and we're entertaining, but I like winning, too, so we've got to keep it out."
Ben Bishop, who is 2-1-0 with an .861 save percentage and a 3.68 goals-against average, likely gets the start in goal for the Lightning while the Maple Leafs will counter with Frederik Andersen. The 27-year-old Danish puck stopper is 1-0-2 in three starts this season while posting an .879 save percentage and a 3.64 G.A.A.
Toronto concludes its home stand on Thursday when it plays host to the Florida Panthers.