Lightning ready to strike rivals Toronto

The Amalie Arena hosts a massive match-up as the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning look to strike down their nearest rivals and pre-season Stanley Cup favourites, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs would be clear at the top in any other division but find themselves trying to close what is looking like a gaping chasm of six points in the Atlantic Division, with the hosts showing no signs of slowing down.

Tampa are now clear favourites for outright glory, although they are now priced at 5.50, having been joint-favourites at 5.00 going into last weekend alongside Toronto, who are currently 6.00 to end their Stanley Cup drought.

The Lightning are running away with the Presidents Trophy at the moment, having enjoyed a seven-game winning streak and winning 10 of their last 11 games, while the Leafs seemed to have hit a bump in the road.

Toronto suffered back-to-back defeats against Detroit and Boston but did at least warm up for this encounter with a 4-1 win in Carolina last time out, the second game of a five-match road trip.

Being away from home should not necessarily be a problem for Toronto though, as no team can match their 12 road wins (with just four defeats), but they are taking on a dominant home side in Tampa Bay (14-4-0) and should be prepared for the toughest of tests.

Goaltender Frederik Andersen leads the league with 17 wins and he will need to bring his A game as the Lightning are easily the highest scorers in the NHL, with their tally of 130 dwarfing Toronto’s next best 113, albeit having played one game more.

Perhaps what is more worrying for Toronto is the fact that Lightning legend Steven Stamkos has found his better form, having netted seven points in his last two games, including his ninth Lightning hat-trick against New York Rangers last time –that saw him pass the 700-point mark.

A run of 10 points in five games has come after a surprisingly slow start for the former number one draft pick, who had managed just two goals in his first 11 games and six in 21, and he scored two goals and two assists in a 7-1 rout of Colorado two games ago, with the Avs having been seen as a dark horse for title glory.

In-form Oilers face Jets test

Two form teams go head-to-head at Bell MTS Place with Winnipeg Jets challenging Nashville Predators and Colorado for Central leadership, while the Edmonton Oilers have climbed up the Pacific rankings to lie in fourth, just four points behind Calgary.

The Jets have responded favourably to a surprise 1-0 shutout to the struggling St Louis Blues at home by banging in the goals, beating Philadelphia 7-1 and Chicago 6-3 to make it six wins in their last seven games.

The Jets look a strong all-round package and are currently fourth-favourites at 15.00 to go all the way this season, with the offensive talent of points leader Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and leading scorer Patrik Laine backed up by the defensive strength of the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers.

The Oilers are enjoying a fine run of four successive wins, having come out on top in seven of their last eight games, making statements with their two most recent victories by beating Colorado 6-4, while shutting out the free-scoring Calgary Flames in a 1-0 win.

Of course, Edmonton also boast arguably the best player in the league on their roster in Connor McDavid, who unsurprisingly leads the team in points, goals and assists.

He is doing his best to define a one-man team but that would be unfair to the likes of Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, with the Oilers now getting into stride.

The Oilers have still conceded more goals than they have scored though and that would be a worry going to Winnipeg, particularly with a hit-and-miss road record of 8-8-1. But if any player can deliver, it is McDavid – and he scored two goals with two assists in a 5-4 Oilers win at the Jets back in October.

Predators can end Vancouver streak

Nashville have proven over the season that they certainly have the capabilities of going all the way, having beaten the league-leading Lightning twice already, and are currently third favourites at 8.00 to lift the Stanley Cup.

The Predators still top the Central Division, by a point from Winnipeg having played a game more, but their recent form has been mixed, winning five and losing five of their last ten games.

They bounced back from successive defeats by keeping the free-scoring Ottawa Senators quiet in a 3-1 win, but now take on a Vancouver Canucks side that has found a bit of form and has proven they are capable of a shock, having beaten the likes of Tampa Bay, Calgary and Colorado this season.

The Canucks go into this game on a three-game winning streak, started by a 5-3 victory over the Predators at Rogers Arena, but Nashville can gain revenge at the Bridgestone Arena with the Canucks losing more than they win on the road.