The skinny on Vinny

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

Forget the Maple Leafs' record of 4-0 against the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, those 15 points by Toronto's first line in those games and the Leafs' overall domination of the series (35-11-3).

Two words -- Vincent Lecavalier -- reminded the Leafs yesterday that two points tonight won't be a cinch. Lecavalier leads the National Hockey League with 45 points in 29 games, has been involved in more than half his team's goals and is on pace to beat last year's career best 108 points.

A league-wide TSN media poll named him the best player in the first two months by a convincing majority. Two members of the Leafs who've followed his career closely, ex-teammate Pavel Kubina and former division rival coach Paul Maurice, agree that Lecavalier has become better with age.

"He started at 18 or 19, now he's 27 and grown up as a person and a player," said Kubina, who sipped from the Stanley Cup with Lecavalier in 2004. "He's the reason why they've been so successful. We've got to be ready to do our job against him."

Lecavalier had six points against Toronto last season.

"I remember his first exhibition game against us (in Carolina)," Maurice said. "He beat Curtis Leschyshyn (then one of the best defensive defencemen around) on a goal and I thought 'this guy is going to be special'.

"He has grown into a big man, put a lot of mass on (6-foot-4, 223 pounds), and now he's a lot for a defenceman to handle."

But the Leafs have reason to fear other elements of the Lightning, such as its 12th-ranked penalty-killing unit. Boston, which was 29th in that area on Saturday morning, resembled an angry porcupine against the Leafs power play, which Maurice noted could not break out or retrieve pucks, never mind work set plays. The Leafs were 0-for-6 in the 2-1 loss, leaving their power play 29th in the league at 13%.

"We have a structure in mind, but we were not in a proper shot mentality (Saturday) Maurice said.

The Lightning recovered from a six-game losing streak to earn points in their past four games. That was preceded by general manager Jay Feaster telling the St. Petersburg Times that if the team did not sharpen up by Christmas, ownership might write off the season and start cutting payroll near the trade deadline.

"Being sub-.500, being 13th or 14th isn't cutting it, given the money we lose, to think we're going to keep payroll where it is and not make changes," Feaster said.

But no one thinks Lecavalier would be dealt now, while Brad Richards is too rich for most teams at $7.8 million US this year, leaving Martin St. Louis, who is making $6 million this year but less in 2008-09.


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