Game Preview #48 - Leafs vs Islanders
With the Toronto Maple Leafs (23-19-5) hosting the surging New York Islanders (19-21-6) tonight in the front half of a home and home series it is crucial that at this time tomorrow the Leafs will have taken two points in regulation. The Islanders are thriving having won four of their last five games, and are planning on starting Evgeny Nabokov the reigning third star of the week in goal.
Up front the Islanders and Leafs are quite similar. While the Leafs have lived and died with the duo of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, the Isles have received the bulk of their production from John Tavares and Matt Moulson. This pair has benefited greatly from the breakout season of PA Parenteau, however the supporting cast has been unable to help out the top line on Long Island as Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielson, Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey and the departed Blake Comeau have all failed to live up to preseason expectations. New York enters tonight with the 6th ranked power play unit thanks in large part to Moulson, Tavares and Parenteau, but also due in large part to the healthy return of quarterback Mark Streit. The Swiss blueliner has 26 points so far this season, and the Leafs will need to pay special attention to his cannon from the point over the next two games.
The Leafs are entering tonight having lost four of their last five games, and in severe need of a turn around. As noted before on this blog, if the Leafs are unable to turn their game around quickly (as in tonight) then the post season plans that were made earlier this season need to be put on hold for another year. Clarke MacArthur has not recorded a point in 7 games and has found himself relegated to the fourth line. Other than Kessel and Lupul, it's difficult to admit but the most effective forward for the blue and white over the last little while has been Joey Crabb. Toronto needs both the Grabovksi - Kulemin combination as well as the Connolly - Kadri duo to get back on track tonight as the scoring has dried up in Leafland.
Goalie Jonas Gustavsson will once again get the start between the pipes. While he can't be at fault for the poor play over the last little while, Jonas really needs to clean up the short side goals that have crept back into his game. I'm somewhat surprised that James Reimer isn't getting the nod tonight, but maybe the Leafs want him to get a game away from the restless home fans as he looks to rediscover his game.
Lupul - Bozak - Kessel
Kadri - Connolly - Lombardi
Kulemin - Grabovski - Crabb
Brown - Steckel - MacArthur
Phaneuf - Schenn
Gunnarsson - Komisarek
Gardiner - Franson
Moulson - Tavares - Okposo
Grabner - Nielson - Parenteau
Martin - Bailey - Rolston
Wallace - Pandolfo - Niederreiter
Streit - Jurcina
Hamonic - MacDonald
Eaton - Reese
Players to Watch
Leafs: Nazem Kadri - Toronto is in desperate need of a spark offensively and that just happens to be Nazem's strong suit. The former top ten pick (7th overall in 2009) has 6 points in 14 games this season including a goal against the Islanders in the last meeting. Being a big fan of Kadri I think if he is given the right opportunity he can salvage the blue and white season.
Islanders: Matt Moulson - The North York Ontario native loves to score against his home town team. Moulson is the exact type of big bodied scoring winger the Leafs lack in their lineup. Look for him to continue to punish the blue and white tonight.
Game Time: 7:00 at the Air Canada Centre. TV - LeafsTV. Radio - AM640.