Leafs focus on Stamkos

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:51 PM ET

The Maple Leafs are sending out an S.O.S. for Thursday Night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning -- Shut Out Stamkos.

If they can't have a No. 1 pick themselves in June, the last thing the Leafs need is the Toronto-area kid who went first in 2008 coming back and continuing his push to become a 50-goal man and the top Canadian scorer in the NHL this season.

The sophomore Stamkos brings the league's longest active points' streak into the Air Canada Centre -- 17 games and 41 goals overall -- hoping to extend that at the expense of a team that's 11 points back.

The Leafs have to stay out of the penalty box for starters -- Stamkos's feared one-timer has connected on 17 power-play goals and they're last in penalty killing -- but the 21-year-old can beat you in a number of ways, having learned from Vince Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis on the ice and coaches such as Rick Tocchet, Gary Roberts and Wes Walz off of it.

"It's hard to believe a guy that young is putting up those kinds of numbers," said Œ08 draft classmate Luke Schenn of the Leafs. "But if anyone can, it's him. People questioned him last year when he got off to a bit of slow start (under ex-coach Barry Melrose). You knew he was going to come through and be a super star.

"It's going to be a challenge for our whole team to pay attention to him."

Toronto coach Ron Wilson, with nothing much but youth and exuberance to combat the high-scoring Bolts, wasn't planning on assigning a specific line to shadow Stamkos and wingers Steve Downie and St. Louis.

"We don't really have a checking line now," Wilson said. "The teams we've been playing recently, we've just gone strength on strength."

Stamkos said he was refreshed after a rare home-cooked meal in Unionville on Wednesday night and looked forward to trying to improve on his nine points in seven games against the Leafs. But the Lightning need this win badly after a major breakdown heading into the Olympics resulted in them losing six of the past seven and rattling playoff hopes.

"It seems teams aren't making good plays to beat us," Stamkos said. "We're coughing it up and they're putting it in the back of our net. We can only blame ourselves."

That was an attempt to take the heat off of goalies Mike Smith and Antero Niittymaki, who've both been criticized of late.

Toronto shapes up as a rare Œlight' opponent on the schedule for Tampa, with a cramped set of games including Washington twice, plus Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Buffalo in the mix before the next non-playoff foe is due versus Florida.

"The schedule opens up again in April, but we can't worry about tomorrow," Tocchet said. "They (Smith and Niittymaki) will tell you, we've had some average goaltending the past 10 games. They know they have to get better and our defence knows they have to clear the net better.

"Montreal had five goals from six feet in Tuesday. That can't happen in the NHL. We better be tough tonight. because the Leafs come hard to the net and we have to box out six-foot goals."

Smith starts tonight, opposing Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

---

Tonight's lineup

Toronto

Forwards

Luca Caputi Tyler Bozak Phil Kessel

Nikolai Kulemin Mikhail Grabovski Viktor Stalberg

Rickard Wallin Christian Hanson Jamie Lundmark

John Mitchell Wayne Primeau Colton Orr

Defence

Dion Phaneuf Francois Beauchemin

Luke Schenn Tomas Kaberle

Jeff Finger Carl Gunnarsson

Goal

J-S Giguere Jonas Gustavsson

---

Tampa Bay

Forwards

Steve Downie Steven Stamkos Martin St. Louis

Alex Tanguay Vinny Lecavalier Ryan Malone

Stephane Veilleux Nate Thompson Mark Parrish

Brandon Bochenski Paul Szczechura Todd Fedoruk

Defence

Mattias Ohlund Victor Hedman

Andrej Meszaros Kurtis Foster

Matt Walker Mike Lundin

Goal

Mike Smith Antero Niittymaki


Videos

Photos