Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. New York Islanders: Game Day
Heading into tonight’s tilt, both teams have their fair share of injuries to deal with. For the Islanders, they will be without the services of Thomas Vanek (upper body), Evgeni Nabokov (groin), Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) and Brian Strait (upper body).
Comparatively, the Maple Leafs will be without the services of Tyler Bozak (lower body), Dave Bolland (ankle) and Mark Fraser (lower body). Maple Leafs’ sniper Phil Kessel has the flu. Kessel will dress for tonight’s game, but he will not be at 100 percent. The Leafs will also be without Nazem Kadri, who will be serving the third game of his three game suspension.
In order to off-set their shortcomings down the middle, Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Dave Nonis acquired centre Peter Holland from the Anaheim Ducks over the weekend.
Holland played 11:43 in his debut with the Leafs against the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night, registering two shots on goal in 19 shifts. While it is expected that Holland will get more minutes tonight, it is still up in the air as to which line he will be centering as head coach Randy Carlyle likes to switch them up frequently.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Bernier (7-5-1, 2.05 GAA, 0.938 SV%) will get the start between the pipes for the blue and white, while Kevin Poulin (3-5-0, 2.52 GAA, 0.909 SV%) will start for the Islanders.
While Poulin has been solid in relief of the injured Nabokov, Bernier has been the better netminder this season and has been hot of late, allowing a stingy six goals against in his past four starts.
Up front, the Islanders will ice a cast which includes the ultra-talented/points machine, John Tavares. Tavares has adjusted well to losing longtime linemate Matt Moulson in the Vanek trade, registering two goals and eight points in his past five games.
Fellow forwards Frans Nielsen (9 goals, 21 points) and Kyle Okposo (six goals, 20 points) have been solid for the Islanders, while forward Michael Grabner has struggled, leading to rumors that he may be a healthy scratch tonight.
After a hot start to the season, the Maple Leafs offense has sputtered of late, scoring just eight goals in regulation time in their past six games (which includes a four-goal effort against the Sabres on Saturday night).
Both James van Riemsdyk (two goals against the Sabres) and Mason Raymond (two goals and two assists over the past three games are hot for the Buds, while Kessel (one goal in his past five games) and Joffrey Lupul (one goal in his past five games) have been cold of late. Toronto is also looking for David Clarkson to pick it up offensively. In ten games with the Maple Leafs, Clarkson is yet to score a goal and has just three assists and a minus-2 rating to his name.
The Leafs would love to see a goal from the likes of Nikolai Kulemin (1 goal), David Clarkson (0 goals), Jay McClement (0 goals) or even newly acquired Peter Holland (1 goal with Anaheim)— combined those players have lit the lamp a total of twice this season.
On the backend, the Maple Leafs d-men have combined for a paltry three goals, with captain Dion Phaneuf leading the way with two and the often unreliable Paul Ranger chipping in with the other goal.
Statistically, the Maple Leafs look like the better team. Toronto sits 14th overall in goals scored (2.75 per game), ninth in goals allowed (2.29 per game), third on the power play (23.5% success rate) and 11th on the penalty kill (83.5% success rate.
Comparatively, the Islanders own the worst (ranked 30th) penalty kill (72.3% success rate), 17th ranked power play (18.9% success rate) while posting the 12th-best goals for (2.76 per game) and the 27th-best goals against per game at 3.14.
While Toronto’s numbers appear to be far superior to that of the Islanders, it should be noted that the Maple Leafs’ numbers have been dropping, and do not necessarily represent how the team has been playing of late, which has been questionable at best.
A native of Toronto, John Tavares should have a great game in front of family and friends. Look for him to light the lamp tonight.
For Toronto, they will need some of their unsung hero’s to step up with some offense and it wouldn’t kill the defense (amongst the NHL’s worst in scoring) to chip in on offense as well.
With so many players out for Toronto and Kessel not at 100 percent due to flu symptoms, the Maple Leafs are severely crippled up front. While Holland may help, he will be no match for the likes of Tavares— who should take advantage of the Maple Leafs’ inability to win face-offs all night long.
Bernier should be solid between the pipes for Toronto, but can he be flawless against the likes of Tavares, Okposo, Nielsen and company?
Unfortunately, that’s what it may take to beat the Islanders, as Toronto will be hard-pressed to score.
Fearless Prediction: I see a shoot-out coming, with Toronto losing this one, 3-2 to the Islanders.