NHL Odds, Preview, Prediction: Lightning vs. Maple Leafs (December 20)

NHL Odds, Preview, Prediction: Lightning vs. Maple Leafs (December 20) article feature image

David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Andrei Vasilevskiy

  • The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning meet on Tuesday night in a matchup of two of the NHL's top teams.
  • The Lightning are hot, while the Maple Leafs are looking to rebound from two straight losses.
  • Continue reading for a full breakdown of this matchup, including a betting pick.

Lightning vs. Maple Leafs Odds

Lightning Odds+108
Maple Leafs Odds-130
Over/Under6 (-104 / -118)
Time7 p.m. ET
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute NHL Odds here.

The Toronto Maple Leafs meet the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night in a matchup of two of the NHL's top teams.

The Maple Leafs have a commanding 19-7-6 record, but are coming off back-to-back games in regulation for the first time this season. Between that slump, and the fact that the Lightning are a great team in their own right on a five-game winning streak, is this a game that Tampa Bay should take?

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Lightning Hot

The Lightning haven't just won their last five games, they've outscored their opponents by a combined 24-7. Taking a broader look, Tampa Bay also has a 13-3-0 record dating back to Nov. 13.

Tampa Bay was also the second-best offense with 4.19 goals per game, and the sixth-place defense with 2.50 goals per game, from Nov. 13-Dec. 18. In short, the Lightning are a great team that's been especially dominate lately.

It helps that their best players have been living up to that billing. Nikita Kucherov is on a seven-game point streak, providing two goals and 12 points over that span. Steven Stamkos has only been held off the scoresheet once in his last 16 contests, contributing nine goals and 23 points during that hot streak. Brayden Point was pointless against Montreal on Saturday, but just prior to that, he scored six goals and seven points during a five-game goal scoring streak.

At the same time, Andrei Vasilevskiy has shaken off a rough start to the campaign. He had a 5-5-1 record, 3.10 GAA and .898 save percentage in his first 11 contests, but since Nov. 17 he's been one of the league's top netminders with an 8-3-0 record, 2.01 GAA and .932 save percentage in 11 games.

There's really not much to dislike about Tampa Bay right now, but there is one potential problem. Mikhail Sergachev, who has been a cornerstone of Tampa Bay's defense and an important figure on the power play, has missed the Lighnting's last two games with an upper-body injury. That didn't prevent Tampa Bay from cruising past Columbus on Thursday or Montreal on Saturday, but the Maple Leafs are a far bigger challenge.

What's Next For Toronto?

It feels like whenever things are going right for the Maple Leafs, there's a sense of unease, like it's just a matter of time before the other shoe drops. Then when the Leafs do hit a speed bump, there's a fear that this is merely the beginning of something much worse. Not winning a Cup since 1967, compounded by years of early playoff exits, will do that.

That said, the fact that Toronto has lost two straight games isn't cause for panic. Setbacks happen to both good and bad teams, and losing to solid squads like the Rangers and Capitals is hardly a disaster. By the same token, though, things won't get any easier for Toronto with the Lightning in town.

The Maple Leafs will be looking for Mitch Marner to get going again. He went on an incredible 23-game scoring streak from Oct. 27-Dec. 13, but he has no points and a minus-3 rating in his last two contests. John Tavares similarly needs a bounce back game after being held off the scoresheet in back-to-back contests while being slapped with a minus-4 rating.

Beyond that, Toronto will hope for good goaltending against one of the league's top offensive teams. Matt Murray got Saturday's game against Washington off, so he'll probably be in net against the Lightning. He's been good this season with a 7-2-2 record, 2.45 GAA and .924 save percentage in 11 contests, so he's shown that he's up to the challenge. That said, he did stop just 17 of 19 shots versus the Rangers on Thursday.

All-in-all, the Leafs are clearly a team that can win this game. They need to rebound in order to do that, but that's certainly within their power.

Lightning vs. Maple Leafs Pick

Do I think Toronto is a lock to win this game? Of course not. Even if the Leafs hadn't dropped their last two games, the skill of the Lightning would give me pause. After all, Tampa Bay narrowly beat Toronto in the first round of the 2022 playoffs, and more recently earned a 4-3 overtime win against the Leafs on Dec. 3.

The puck line is tempting. The spread is 1.5 goals in favor of Tampa Bay, which is a lot of leeway to give a squad as good as the Lightning. The odds are -210 if you take the Lightning on FanDuel, but I like the offer so much, that I am pulled toward it even with the relatively small potential payout it offers.

Ultimately, though, I'm going to sidestep the question of who will win this game and recommend the Under of 6.5 goals on FanDuel, which at the time of writing is offering a potential payout of -124. BetMGM odds for the Under are -105, but they're putting the over/under at 6 goals, and in this case I think that extra 0.5 is important.

The two teams combined for seven goals in their last meeting, but that contest went to overtime, and with the goaltending and defenses that these squads feature, I think typically you're going to see less scoring than what we got Dec. 3.

It's also worth noting that the Maple Leafs only have the 15th-place offense this season at 3.22 goals per game. Toronto has been leaning heavily on its top forwards to carry the load in terms of scoring, and with Marner and Tavares going through a bit of a cold patch, we might not see a ton of goals from Toronto here.

I ultimately feel more comfortable predicting that the final score will be 2-1 or 3-2 than I do saying which team will be on the winning side.

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