The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Toronto Maple Leafs in a potential postseason preview on Tuesday, though the Atlantic Division rivals are each currently more focused on rebounding from embarrassing losses than looking ahead to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In the Leafs' case, they're still trying toensure that they'll even reach the postseason. Second-place Tampa Bay is 13 points ahead of the third-place Maple Leafs, who are only two points up on the Florida Panthers for the Atlantic's last automatic playoff berth.
Toronto has a 4-6-1 record over its last 11 games. The Maple Leafs' most recent defeat was a 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday that saw them manage just 10 shots in almost 29 minutes against an emergency goalie -- 42-year-old David Ayres, who has already become a folk hero after his unexpected NHL debut.
"I just think we didn't have enough [offensive] zone time. [We had] a lot of one-and-dones and turnovers, especially our line, especially myself," Mitchell Marner said. "I mean, it's just not good enough. I expect myself to be a lot better in these games ... Everything just seemed to go wrong. Now it's time to stop feeling sorry for ourselves."
The Maple Leafs have lost three of their last four games and have allowed 16 goals over those three losses. Beyond the defensive problems, Toronto is also only 2-for-20 on power-play opportunities over its last eight games.
After an 11-game win streak from Jan. 29 to Feb. 17, the Lightning have now sustained consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season. Tampa Bay allowed a season-high seven goals in Saturday's 7-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes.
"It's a game where you kind of burn the tape [and] move on," said forward Pat Maroon, who felt the Lightning must do better at matching the "desperate" intensity of playoff-bubble clubs like Arizona and Toronto.
"Sometimes you get too high, too low, you know that saying," Maroon said. "Maybe it came to us ... maybe it was just bound to happen. This team can't get too down on themselves right now."
Erik Cernak is questionable for Tuesday's game after an injury forced him out of the Coyotes game during the second period. Any sort of possible absence for Cernak is a bad sign for a defense corps that has already lost Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta to the injured reserve.
The Lightning added some extra blue-line help by signing defenseman Zach Bogosian to a one-year contract on Sunday. They also made a trade for forward Barclay Goodrow, sending a first-round pick and receiving a third-round pick as part of the deal.
The short-handed defense has been a reason for Andrei Vasilevskiy's 12 goals allowed over his last two starts, though Vasilevskiy is expected to be back in net on Tuesday.
While Frederik Andersen is himself no stranger to defensive letdowns, the Leafs goalie has struggled to an .873 save percentage over his last six games. Andersen has a 1-4-0 record over those six outings.
On Monday, Toronto traded backup goaltender Michael Hutchinson to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defenseman Calle Rosen. Rosen, 26, has two assists in eight games this season.
In addition, the Maple Leafs signed defenseman Jake Muzzin to a four-year, $22.5 million contract extension. Muzzin will reportedly receive $16.8 million in a signing bonus as part of the deal.
Tuesday is the second of four meetings between the Lightning and Maple Leafs this season. The Lightning won the first matchup by a 7-3 score on Oct. 10 in Toronto.
Dating back to the 2013-14 season, Tampa Bay is 17-6-1 over its last 24 games against the Leafs.
--Field Level Media