The Maple Leafs look to extend their winning streak to five games tonight on Long Island (7:00 p.m. EST, TSN4).
The Islanders will provide a far more significant challenge than the last three games against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks — “It might take us a little bit to recalibrate,” admitted Sheldon Keefe — but the Isles have been facing struggles of their own of late. They are coming off back-to-back 5-2 losses, and their head coach, Lane Lambert, will shake up the team’s forward lines both in search of a spark and due to the loss of Casey Cizikas to injury.
The Brock Nelson – Kyle Palmieri – Pierre Engvall line, which has given the Islanders a lot of good minutes this season, has been broken up as Palmieri will join Mat Barzal and Simon Holmstrom, while Hudson Fasching will skate with Nelson and Engvall.
On the Leafs‘ side, there is good news on the Matthew Knies front as he is available for the game. He appeared to have suffered a scary leg injury during yesterday’s practice, but he has confirmed that he is “good to go” for tonight’s game. Noah Gregor is also expected to return to the lineup after missing the last game due to illness. Nick Robertson is the odd man out, having lost his spot in the lineup to Pontus Holmberg. for the time being.
In net, Sheldon Keefe will continue to lean on Martin Jones, who has been playing exceptionally well in carrying the load for the past five straight games, including winning both games in a back-to-back. Among NHL goaltenders who have played over 10 games, Jones leads the league in Goals Saved Above Expected per 60 with 1.045.
Ilya Samsonov was recalled yesterday from the Toronto Marlies and will serve as the backup goalie tonight, with the anticipation of a possible return to the Leafs‘ crease on Sunday vs. Detroit, but it remains to be seen if Keefe will roll with Jones through another back-to-back rather than risk another setback before Samsonov is fully ready to restart his season.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge presented by the Islanders:
Aggressive team offensively. They are going to come to the net hard. Pucks are going to go to the net. They have great goaltending and play well in transition. They also kind of bait you into some of those plays where you want to put the puck to the middle of the ice but they turn on it really quickly. They defend the middle of the ice really well.
When you play here, it is a tough environment and a tough game. The biggest thing for us is that it is going to be a different type of game than we have played of late. It is a different type of opponent and a different challenge.
We have talked about that and believe we are prepared for that. It might take us a little bit to recalibrate a little bit, but those are the things we are focused on today.
Islanders head coach Lane Lambert on his lineup shuffle:
I don’t think we’ve played very well lately… We could have just moved one person with Cizikas being out, but we moved a bunch of people. We’ve got to be better.
Mark Giordano on Morgan Rielly’s bid for the All-Star game:
Obviously, Mo deserves to be an all-star. He’s probably deserved to be in a bunch of games already in his career, but it is just the way the format works out. This one being in Toronto and home town, it’d be nice.
Ilya Samonsov on his reaction to getting waived by the team:
You’re sad, yeah? But it’s nice signal for your brain and your body: Man, you need to wake up, get back on track, and work as hard as you can.
Keefe on Conor Timmins and William Lagesson sitting out of the lineup for an extended stretch:
This is the situation right now. We think we’ve found a good grove here in how we have played as a team, how the defesce has played, and how the pairs have meshed together. For the time being, while we are healthy. We don’t see a reason to change.
Timmins and Lagesson need to stay ready and maximize every rep that they can. Both those players have been in these situations before, and that’s reality of the league.
Knies on his injury in practice:
Yeah, it was just a really awkward situation. I just got a stick caught in my skate and fell awkwardly back on my knee. It just twisted wrong. I was in a lot of discomfort there, and it didn’t feel right to me. It felt more serious than it was when I was exiting the ice. I just had to let it settle down and it started to feel good by the end of the day
Keefe on the impact on the players’ motivations whenever Tavares returns to Long Island:
I don’t think there’s anything additional to it in terms of fuel, but it definitely creates an environment. Coming in here for a mid-week game, sometimes in the league, these games can be a little quiet. This certainly brings a little to it, for sure.
Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. New York Islanders
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#23 Matthew Knies – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#29 Pontus Holmberg – #11 Max Domi – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#74 Bobby McMann – #64 David Kampf – #18 Noah Gregor
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#22 Jake McCabe – #2 Simon Benoit
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #31 Martin Jones
#35 Ilya Samsonov
Scratched: Conor Timmins, William Lagesson
Injured: John Klingberg, Joseph Woll, Ryan Reaves
New York Islanders Projected Lines
#27 Anders Lee – #14 Bo Horvat – #26 Oliver Wahlstrom
#18 Pierre Engvall – #29 Brock Nelson – #20 Hudson Fasching
#10 Simon Holmstrom – #13 Mathew Barzal – #21 Kyle Palmieri
#17 Matt Martin – #44 Jean-Gabriel Pageau – #15 Cal Clutterbuck
#28 Alex Romanov – #8 Noah Dobson
#3 Adam Pelech – #24 Scott Mayfield
#2 Mike Rielly – #25 Sebastian Aho
Starter: #30 Ilya Sorokin
#50 Kenneth Appleby
Injured/Out: Casey Cizikas, Semyon Varlamov, Ryan Pulock