The Maple Leafs are looking for a bounce-back performance against a desperate Islanders team as they pay their first-ever visit to the USB Arena tonight in Elmont, New York (7:30 p.m. EST, Sportsnet Ontario).
The Islanders’ start to the season has been filled with adversity between their inconsistent performances, injuries, Covid situations, and the 13 consecutive games on the road while they patiently awaited a home opener at their new USB Arena that didn’t take place until last night against Calgary. At 5-7-2, the back-to-back Conference Finalists are currently at the bottom of a highly-competitive Metropolitan Division that has no other teams below .500.
Due to a combination of Covid protocol and injuries, the Islanders were missing three of their top-six wingers — Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey — and two of their top-four defensemen in Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock for the ribbon-cutting home opener last night, a 5-2 loss to the Flames (two empty-netters for Calgary).
The Leafs have really struggled as a tired team in back-to-backs so far this season (and for many years, really) with losses to Ottawa, Pittsburgh (the 7-1 game), and an arguably undeserved win after a sloppy performance in Buffalo. Unlike those previous games, they are not cruising into this back-to-back situation off of a victory the night prior, so the urgency should be there.
In front of a rookie goaltender making his second career start in Joseph Woll, the Leafs are going to need to dig deep to ensure they aren’t outworked by a team that is likely going to come out with plenty of jump. The Islanders’ backs are against the wall with their recent results (five straight losses), and they’re playing in front of an amped-up home crowd celebrating its new digs, one that will be especially hostile to John Tavares’ return to New York.
If the Leafs don’t allow themselves to be outworked, the Islanders’ defense is vulnerable at the moment with two key studs and half of its regulars missing. The Leafs‘ five-man structure defensively has generally been solid over the past three weeks, which will need to continue from the start of the game tonight to help their rookie goalie settle into a hostile atmosphere. The Leafs forwards will need to be engaged without the puck in slowing down the Islanders’ north-south game through the neutral zone before they can get on top of the defense with their diligent forecheck.
In terms of lineup notes, we won’t know until we’re closer to puck drop, but Sheldon Keefe could insert some fresh legs on the bottom pairing of the defense. Keefe could also mix Kirill Semyonov into the fold up front; in the last b2b in Buffalo, it was Wayne Simmonds who made way, but Simmonds is coming off of a strong week of performances and his presence is needed in a game like this one.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on giving Joseph Woll the nod for his second career start:
You never want to judge too much either way off of one game. Obviously, that experience will help him going forward. The one thing that we did is go back and look at his game specifically. The goals that went in were one thing — and there were a couple there that we really hung him out to dry. If you look at some of the saves he made in that game, he looked really confident, was in the right spots, he looked big in the net, and he was not giving up a lot.
That helped our confidence in him, and there is the fact that he has the experience here now — even more so with another week of practicing and prepping. It is important for us to give Jack some time off. We will give Joe another go at it.
Barry Trotz on the team’s home opener in their new building:
You think about the Anders Lees, the Josh Baileys, the Pelechs, the Pulocks, and all of the guys that are out… Beauvillier, we found that out at the last minute. I sent them a text because they are the ones who have put in a lot of the blood, sweat, and tears into keeping this team competitive. Having been through the Colesium, the Barclays, back to the Colesium… All of those different things. They are the ones who have ground through a lot of that, and they missed that opportunity.
It was a bit of a messy 24 hours because of the Covid thing. We did a really good job with all of the young guys coming in. If you look at the defense, it is a pretty young defense coming in and playing a very good Calgary team in this building.
What an atmosphere. This is an old-school building that feels new-school when you are out there on the ice. The acoustics and the volume at the benches are outstanding. The way that they set it up looks like the fans are on top of you, just like the old Colesium. It was a really good night in terms of what the fans brought, the building brought, and what the players brought.
Brock Nelson on the team’s home opener:
The crowd, the building, opening night was a big part of it. It has been a long time coming. For a couple of young guys, it was a couple of first games. We did a pretty good job of trying to keep it simple — playing fast, north-south, getting in on the attack, and getting some turnovers. I thought we did that and gave ourselves a chance to win. You hope to get a better result at the end.
Kyle Palmieri on the adversity the Islanders are facing:
We had a meeting [Saturday morning]. It is a little bit of adversity for our group. Barry has kind of harped on just staying in the moment. We didn’t know what our lineup was going to look like [on Saturday]. We don’t really know what it is going to look like [Sunday].
It wasn’t the start we wanted [vs. Calgary], but I thought we battled hard as a team. We were playing for each other and for the guys that couldn’t be here. We are just going to continue to do that, whether it is the same lineup or if it is different. We are going to show up, work hard, and play for each other.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#20 Nick Ritchie – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase
#47 Pierre Engvall – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#8 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #60 Joseph Woll
#36 Jack Campbell
Extras: Travis Dermott, Kirill Semyonov
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek
New York Islanders Projected Lines
#16 Richard Panik – #13 Mathew Barzal – #11 Zach Parise
#18 Anthony Beauvillier – #29 Brock Nelson – #26 Oliver Wahlstrom
#64 Andy Andreoff – #44 Jean-Gabriel Pageau – #21 Kyle Palmieri
#17 Matt Martin – #53 Casey Cizikas – #15 Cal Clutterbuck
#33 Zdeno Chara – #8 Noah Dobson
#45 Robin Salo – #24 Scott Mayfield
#28 Sebastian Aho – #43 Grant Hutton
Starter: #30 Ilya Sorokin
#40 Semyon Varlamov
Injured/Out: Ryan Pulock, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Ross Johnston, Adam Pelech, Anthony Beauvillier, Andy Greene