Upcoming games: Maple Leafs, December 5, 7:00 p.m.; Lightning, December 8, 7:00 p.m.; @ Sabres, December 10, 7:00 p.m.; Panthers, December 11, 7:30 p.m.
Toronto Maple Leafs (30 points, 6th place Eastern Conference, 14-10-2)
Brian Burke’s puzzle pieces are finally coming together. The Maple Leafs are competitive contenders this season boasting a league leading scorer and a turnaround year for their captain. Phil Kessel leads in points (32) and goals with 16. Defenseman Dion Phaneuf has 18 points in 26 games averaging 25:43 of ice time per game. Right winger Joffrey Lupul had a league leading 19 points in November. Goaltender James Reimer returned to the lineup on Saturday after being out of the lineup since Oct. 22 from concussion like symptoms. The Leafs were recently named the most highly valued NHL club by Forbes magazine’s yearly ranking which estimated their worth at $521 million. They dropped their last two games to the Boston Bruins by a margin of 10-4 though. The Bruins dominated the home and home series and shutdown the Leafs offensive weapons winning the battles along the boards. The Rangers lost their home opener 4-2 to the Leafs in October at the Garden. The Leafs took control of the game in the third period exploding for three goals. Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson is 4-1 in his last five games.
Tampa Bay Lightning (24 points, 13th place Eastern Conference, 11-12-1)
The Rangers outsmarted the 1-3-1 defense and defeated the Lightning 4-2 on Saturday with a determined effort around the net late. Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavelier and Martin St. Louis were kept quiet by the Rangers defense and did not have much of a chance to convert on the powerplay. There were only two penalties called in the third period. The Lightning have a busy schedule this week as they face off against the Senators in Ottawa on Monday followed by the Islanders the next night.
Buffalo Sabres (29 points, 7th place Eastern Conference, 14-11-1)
Ryan Miller is back and under attack from more than just flying pucks. The goaltender, who recently returned from a concussion after Bruins’ forward Milan Lucic ran into his crease a few weeks ago, got rammed by the Nashville Predators’ Jordin Tootoo last night in his first game back. He retaliated with a few jabs at the feisty forward to show he’s not going to take it. They snapped a two game losing streak beating the Predators 3-2 on Saturday. Center Luke Adam had a goal and an assist in the win while winger Tyler Ennis scored his first goal of the year. Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek lead the Sabres with 27 points. The Sabres are 4-5-1 in their last ten games. Miller is 6-6 so far this season with a 2.48 goals against average.
Florida Panthers (32 points, 3rd place Eastern Conference, 14-8-4)
Kevin Dineen has coached his Panthers to the top of the Southeast Division. The first 26 games of his first season behind the bench in Florida has already started Jack Adams buzz and slowly quelled the early season fluke questions. The Rangers lost 2-1 to the Panthers back on November 23 in Florida. Tomas Fleischmann had two assists and Kris Versteeg scored the game winner in the second period. Jose Theodore made 19 saves while the Rangers offense struggled to get going. Theodore has found his groove this season with a 10-5-3 record and a 2.28 goals against average. He’s 3-1-1 in his last five starts. The Panthers will face Division rivals Tomas Vokoun and the Capitals on Monday before taking on the Sabres and Bruins later in the week and finally heading to New York on Sunday. They beat the San Jose Sharks 5-3 on Saturday.