(Sports Network) - The Toronto Maple Leafs will welcome their biggest off-season acquisition to the ice for the first time this season tonight when they welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning for a battle at Air Canada Centre.
Phil Kessel, who is coming off shoulder surgery during the off-season, was cleared to play at this morning's skate after missing the first 12 games of the season.
Kessel, who is just 22 years old, set career highs in goals (36) and points (60) for the Bruins last year. Toronto gave up a first-round pick in both 2010 and 2011 in addition to its second-round pick in 2010 to land Kessel's services.
Kessel's debut comes at a good time for the Leafs, who have been playing better lately despite the fact they still have just one win on the season. The Maple Leafs earned their first win of the year last Monday by downing Anaheim, 6-3, and then suffered three straight OT losses, concluding with Saturday's shootout setback in Montreal.
Mike Cammalleri notched the winning score in the shootout as Montreal blew a two-goal third-period lead but rebounded to top Toronto, 5-4, at Bell Centre. The loss to the Canadiens ended a five-game road trip for the Leafs, who went 1-1-3 on the trek.
Alexei Ponikarovsky tallied twice for the Maple Leafs. Tomas Kaberle recorded a goal and three assists while Lee Stempniak also scored in regulation. Vesa Toskala stopped 35 shots in the loss for Toronto, which suffered through its first one-win October since 1985.
Kaberle has notched a point in five straight games and has two goals and 11 assists during that tear. He leads all NHL defenseman this season with 17 points (2 goals, 15 assists).
The Leafs have a winless 0-4-1 record at home this year and last won at the ACC when they beat Ottawa to close out the 2008-09 regular season.
The Lightning, meanwhile, have dropped two straight, three of four and five of their last seven. They are still second in the Southeast Division, but are eight points behind first-place Washington.
Tampa was handed a blowout loss Monday evening in Philadelphia as Jeff Carter and Mike Richards both finished with two goals and an assist to lift the Flyers to a 6-2 win at the Wachovia Center.
Mike Smith got the start in net for the Lightning and allowed five goals on 18 shots through nearly 27 minutes of play. Former Flyer Antero Niittymaki made 12 saves the rest of the way.
Jeff Halpern and Steven Stamkos had the goals for Tampa Bay. Stamkos has scored a goal in six straight games for the Lightning and has eight tallies and three assists during an eight-game point streak. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft has 11 goals in 12 games this year after notching just two markers through his first 12 contests during his rookie campaign in 2008-09.
Tonight's test marks the second stop on a four-game road trip for the Bolts, who are winless away from Tampa this year, posting an 0-4-1 mark as the guest.
Tampa Bay took three of four from the Maple Leafs last season and has taken five of seven overall in the series. The Lightning have won their last two games in Toronto, but has still dropped 11 out of 14 on the road against the Leafs.