Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs vs New York Islanders
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ first blowout loss of the season came at home to the Columbus Blue Jackets back on November 25, a game much like Saturday night’s in that the team was plainly outworked from puck drop. After getting booed off the ice, the Maple Leafs were probably happy to take to the road for the three games afterward. Booed after each period en route to a 7-1 loss to the Rangers and apologizing after the game on Saturday, the Leafs won’t get the same reprieve tonight. With a tenuous hold on the final wildcard spot, the Leafs will need to bounce back on home ice against a team they should be able to beat in the New York Islanders.
Like the Rangers on Saturday, the Islanders will enter tonight playing the second game of a back to back. Unlike their New York counterparts, who were coming off a whopping at the hands of the Penguins, the Islanders are entering on a high note having dropped a touchdown on the Dallas Stars last night, a game featuring a hat-trick, five-point performance from John Tavares. Let’s hope the Islanders and JT are all goal-ed and points-ed out for tonight’s meeting.
Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson (and Nikolai Kulemin, who bodychecked Tavares face first into the referee’s groin) kept Tavares quiet in the Leafs-Islanders first meeting of the 2013-14 season. At the time, the Leafs were coming off a stretch in which they scored only eight goals in their previous six games before putting five past Kevin Poulin on only 24 shots. Two of which were outrageous snipes by Phil Kessel, who has five points in his last two games vs. the Islanders.
Carl Gunnarsson won’t be in the lineup for the Leafs tonight, and it looks like Tim Gleason will receive a sink or swim opportunity on the team’s top pairing next to Dion Phaneuf, at least to start the game. This is a shutdown pair we would have been really excited about in 2011-12, but where Gleason’s game is at is an unknown at best. With Gunnarsson out, pairing Gleason with the team’s most dependable defenceman could be a bold but clever move in helping Gleason find his footing in Toronto, or it could be an experiment that ends quickly and with a dismissive giggle. It will be interesting to monitor. Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly both played some shifts beside Phaneuf in the blowout loss to the Rangers; If Gunnarsson is out for more than this game, Gardiner and Phaneuf spending 25 minutes together throughout a game might be worth looking at.
David Clarkson is unlikely to play with his banged up foot after blocking a shot in the Rangers game. Clarkson played one of his better games of the season in the November 19 meeting with the Islanders, scoring his first goal as a Maple Leaf after a night of strong work on the forecheck. The remarkable part of it is that Carter Ashton, he of nearly a goal per game with the Marlies, hasn’t received a call up. It seems Fraser McLaren will play if Clarkson can’t go.
The Leafs have four games coming up vs. the Islanders, Hurricanes, Capitals and Devils, who have a combined record of 70 – 72 – 30. Points have to start adding up. In the lead up to the Olympic break starting in a month tomorrow, the Leafs will play 17 games over 30 days in a stretch of schedule that is not difficult in terms of strength of competition. We should have a pretty good idea of where this team stands come the Break.
Jonathan Bernier will start his sixth straight for the Leafs. Given he got the yank after five goals against in the first 35 minutes the last time out, here’s your brutally obvious statement of the day: Jonathan Bernier is Carlyle’s starting goaltender.