Coming off a come-from-behind overtime win in Ottawa last night, the Maple Leafs continue to fight for home-ice advantage in round one and also have an opportunity to cement this regular season as the best in franchise history when they host the New York Islanders tonight at Scotiabank Arena (7:30 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
Coming into this season, many fans felt a certain level of apathy for this Leafs team. There was a feeling of pointlessness to the regular season, as this team couldn’t truly prove anything until the playoffs. Yet here we stand with this team just one win away from multiple franchise milestones. The franchise record for wins in a season is 49, which was tied with a win in Ottawa last night. The record for points is 105; this team now sits at 104. A win tonight over the Islanders would entrench this year as the best regular season in the club’s history.
Speaking of the Islanders, they come into this game with their fate all but sealed as a loss would officially eliminate them from playoff contention. They currently sit 15 points back of the Capitals with eight games remaining in their season. They need a miracle of all miracles to make the playoffs, and it starts with facing a Leafs team they have struggled against lately. In their last three games against Toronto, the Islanders have scored a whopping one goal.
In the two games this season, the Islanders have had 20 and 28 shots on goal and were shut out by a rookie Joseph Woll making his second career start. They simply have not threatened the Leafs offensively in any capacity. Their power play has gone 0-6 in those games while allowing Mitch Marner to open the scoring shorthanded in each game as well.
The good news for New York is that their offense has found a bit of life as of late. In their last 10 games, they are averaging over three goals per game (3.1), led by Brock Nelson (3G 7A) and Matt Barzal (2G 7A), which shouldn’t be much of a shock considering they lead the Islanders in scoring on the season. They’ve also received increased production out of Jean-Gabriel Pageau in this stretch (5G 3A), who has scored over 20 percent of his points (22.2) in the last 10 games.
The Leafs are once again continuing to shuffle their fourth line around, as Abruzzese and Simmonds will draw in for Spezza and Clifford. Abruzzese will again take Spezza’s place on the second power-play unit as well.
Update: No Auston Matthews tonight, which will throw all of the expected lineup changes for a loop.
This will be the 6th game Matthews misses this season
Auston sat out the first three as he worked his way back from off-season wrist surgery … he was also suspended for two games
Leafs are 4-1-0 without him
John Tavares will move up to the top-line centre spot@TSN_Edge
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 17, 2022
In goal, Jack Campbell will take the start after getting the night off in Ottawa. At the other end of the rink, the Islanders will start Ilya Sorokin hot off of a shutout win in Montreal on Friday, his seventh of the year. He has an impressive .928 save percentage on the year and has won three of his past four starts. Tonight will mark his 48th start of the season.
Game Day Quotes
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz on what it will take to stop Auston Matthews:
A stomach flu probably. He’s a terrific player. He’s having a terrific year. He’s dangerous all the time. He and Marner work well together, and then Bunting goes to the front of the net and reads off of them. But he’s a terrific player, and you’re going to need some awareness of him.
Everyone plays him really tight, and they play him tough and he’s still filling the back of nets. We’re going to need some big key saves and stay out of the penalty box and just good awareness. He’s got all the tools, he’s got size, he’s got length, he’s got a release, he’s got strength — he’s got all those things. He’s a superstar in the league.
Brock Nelson on the challenge of defending Auston Matthews:
The season he’s having is pretty remarkable. You look at the box score every night and you’re seeing highlights every night. He’s getting one, two, three. He’s dangerous out there, so for us, you got to recognize when he’s out there. Their line has been playing extremely well. I think I saw a graphic that they are closing in on most points as a line in Leafs history.
They’re feeling it right now. They’re making a lot of plays, so you have to play some good defense. You can’t let them get above you. Try to take away space, but I mean, it doesn’t take him much time or space to get that shot off, and he’s lethal with it. It’s an opportunity for us to try and limit his success, but it’ll be a tough challenge.
First Round Matchup Odds
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #47 Pierre Engvall
#58 Michael Bunting – #64 David Kampf – #11 Colin Blackwell
#26 Nick Abruzzese – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#78 T.J. Brodie – #3 Justin Holl
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#50 Erik Källgren
Extras: Kyle Clifford, Kristians Rubins
Injured: Jake Muzzin, Auston Matthews
LTIR: Ondrej Kase, Rasmus Sandin, Petr Mrazek
New York Islanders Projected Lines
#27 Anders Lee – #29 Brock Nelson – #18 Anthony Beauvillier
#12 Josh Bailey – #44 Jean-Gabriel Pageau – #21 Kyle Palmieri
#11 Zach Parise – #13 Mathew Barzal – #20 Kieffer Bellows
#17 Matt Martin – #53 Casey Cizikas – #32 Ross Johnston
#33 Zdeno Chara – #8 Noah Dobson
#3 Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock
#45 Robin Salo – #4 Andy Greene
Starter: #30 Ilya Sorokin
#50 Ken Appleby
Injured/Out: Semyon Varlamov, Scott Mayfield, Cal Clutterbuck