Winners of three consecutive before the All-Star break, the Maple Leafs attempt to stave off a season-series sweep tonight against the New York Islanders (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
David Kampf’s injury (out for a week minimum) paired with Calle Jarnkrok’s absence has necessitated a bottom-six shuffle in which Pontus Holmberg will shift down to the fourth-line center, Noah Gregor will move up onto the third-line right wing, and Bobby McMann will return on the fourth-line left wing. Ryan Reaves will dress for the second consecutive game coming off of his goal in Winnipeg before the break.
Otherwise, the Leafs‘ three defense pairings and top-six forward lines are expected to remain in the same configuration as before the break. In net, Ilya Samsonov will look to continue his resurgent momentum from before the pause; he stopped 72 of 75 (.960 save percentage) and recorded a shutout in the team’s last three wins.
Under former head coach Lane Lambert, the Isles won the first two games of the season series in overtime on Long Island. The Leafs were significantly outplayed at five-on-five in the first game in December — John Tavares’ 1,000-point game — before taking it to the Isles at even strength in the January 11 rematch, but the result was an identical 4-3 scoreline in extra time.
Since Patrick Roy took over the bench, the Isles are 1-2-1 through a difficult stretch of schedule including matchups against Dallas, Vegas, and Florida. Four points out of a playoff position with one game in hand, the urgency level on the Islanders’ side is significant coming out of the break, but they will soon benefit from the return of top-four defensemen Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, potentially as soon as tonight. Both are considered game-time decisions.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the difference in the Islanders’ play under new head coach Patrick Roy:
We are seeing them play with more aggression and more pressure on the puck defensively. Those are the biggest things.
We have played the Islanders twice already, and in both games, I thought they played us pretty hard. They were emotional and physical games in Long Island. Both games went to OT. I am expecting much the same that way.
Keefe on the need to come out of the All-Star break with a “playoff mentality”:
You have to get the rust off and get back into a game-type mindset. Anything that might be not as tight as you’d like it to be, you hope it is made up for with energy and enthusiasm.
As we get going tonight and beyond, you want to have that type of mindset. That is really what is going to be required the rest of the way.
It is going to be tight and competitive. It is what our team needs. We want to really embrace that. We may as well start tonight.
Keefe on the All-Star participants’ energy levels coming out of the break:
In talking to them yesterday, they all had a blast and were thrilled with how it went.
We had a lot of people in our organization who had a lot to do with the event as well, whether it was our equipment, training, or office staff. There were a lot of comments about how hectic it was and how busy those guys were, in particular, with the event being in our city. We are trying to be mindful of that. We left it to them to determine what they needed yesterday.
Morgan came out this morning and wanted to get some extra touches in. He commented that he didn’t get a lot of touches in the games; the forwards were getting the touches and he had a lot of the defensive responsibilities.
The other guys need some time to get back to feeling like themselves again. Getting back into game action will help with that. I think there is great momentum from such a prestigious event that they had success with that can bleed into playing a game tonight in the same building.
Morgan Rielly on embracing a “playoff” mindset coming out of the break:
It is just about our intensity, preparation, and competitiveness. Coming out of the break each year, you can kind of tell that the pace picks up.
It is a chance for our team to prove to each other that we are ready to make a push in the back half of the season. It starts tonight.
Our group as a whole is very competitive. We are in a good spot in our year — health-wise and in the standings. You can tell the mindset of the guys is that we expect to be better after we come back from the break and to play some good hockey down the stretch.
Patrick Roy on his team’s 1-2-1 stretch since he took over behind the bench:
Back in the league, it was a pretty nice welcome. We had Dallas at home. We had Vegas, the Stanley Cup champion. After that, we were in Montreal. We had Florida, a Stanley Cup finalist. Tonight, we have Toronto. Pretty challenging games.
I am pleased with what I have seen. In terms of limiting the offensive team in our zone in those four games, we are number one in the NHL. This is a good sign. This is progression. This is something we can build on.
Other things need to be better. We need to cut scoring chances against, and the guys are getting better. If our tracking is better back to the defensive zone and if our line changes are better, I think we are going to be just fine.
In terms of the process, I am pleased with where we are.
Roy on the intensity of the team’s morning skates:
We are trying to create habits here. The DNA and identity of our team is hard work. A lot of our guys have been saying that they just want to go back to that.
Roy on the potential return of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock (game-time decisions):
They are important parts of our team. They are both solid defensemen. For Pulock, he has been out of the lineup for a good amount of time. He is going to need some adjustment to feel comfortable on the ice.
They are key guys on our team. They are vets and important leaders. If they play tonight, we are very excited about it.
Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Islanders
In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Isles in four out of five offensive categories and four out of five defensive categories.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#23 Matthew Knies – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#89 Nick Robertson – #11 Max Domi – #18 Noah Gregor
#74 Bobby McMann – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #75 Ryan Reaves
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#2 Simon Benoit – #22 Jake McCabe
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#31 Martin Jones
Scratched: William Lagesson, Conor Timmins
Injured: David Kampf, Calle Jarnkrok, John Klingberg, Joseph Woll
New York Islanders Projected Lines
#27 Anders Lee – #14 Bo Horvat – #13 Mathew Barzal
#18 Pierre Engvall – #29 Brock Nelson – #21 Kyle Palmieri
#10 Simon Holmstrom – #44 Jean-Gabriel Pageau – #26 Oliver Wahlstrom
#17 Matt Martin – #32 Kyle MacLean – #15 Cal Clutterbuck
#28 Alex Romanov – #8 Noah Dobson
#3 Adam Pelech* – #6 Ryan Pulock*
#2 Mike Reilly – #24 Scott Mayfield
Starter: #30 Ilya Sorokin
#40 Semyon Varlamov
Injured/Out: Sebastian Aho, Robert Bortuzzo, Casey Cizikas, Hudson Fasching