ISLANDERS (37-20-7) at MAPLE LEAFS (21-33-11)
As the losses continue to pile up, members of Leafs Nation can’t be blamed if some apathy has begun to set in. It may not be so much a lack of interest in the blue and white as much as a wait and see next year attitude. With that, one may also be thinking that the Leafs remaining 17 games will have little to no meaning.
With the playoff bound New York Islanders taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at the ACC there are implications for both teams.
It was not very long ago that GM Garth Snow took over a flailing NYI team mired in mediocrity and consistently missing the playoffs. That was July 2006 and since then Snow has received praise for remolding the proud franchise that is on the door step of playoff respectability.
The Islanders seem to be peaking at the right time. After a 2-1 win last night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Islanders are 8-1-1 in the past 10 games. The tandem of Halak and Greiss have allowed just 1.9 goals per game while the team has scored 2.9 goals per. Six of those wins have come on the road. Their penalty killing is tops in the league. The one area that should be improved prior to the playoffs is their power play. Albeit it’s not terrible sitting 11th overall.
Captain John Tavares is cold at the moment having recorded just 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 5 games. If the Islanders PP and Tavares can turn those 2 areas around over the next 4 weeks and the team continues to receive solid goaltending, a Washington/NY Islanders Eastern Conference final is a possibility despite strong showings from Tampa Bay and their cross town rival the New York Rangers.
For the Islanders, their final 18 games will have a significant impact on whether they enjoy home ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.
Despite a growing injured reserve and a lineup that gets younger and younger by the day, the Leafs are playing good hockey. They are at least not embarrassing themselves. Mike Babcock’s assessment of different players is bang on and has publicly stated that he needs to re-evaluate William Nylander. After dominating the AHL, Nylander has had a less than stellar beginning to his NHL career. He has one goal in five games. It is concerning but it is early and the Swedish hockey product is young. Nylander is a puck smart player and will figure it out as the rest of the season plays out and gets another off season under his belt.
One player to watch for tonight is Nikita Soshnikov. He has two goals and an assist in five games and has been a pleasant surprise for both Leafs management and Leafs Nation. The two years of playing in the KHL as a 20- year- old and 50 games under the guidance of Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe seems to have prepared him well.
For the Leafs, the remainder of the season is all about auditions, development and draft placement. Sitting last in the league gives the Leafs a 20% chance of winning the Auston Matthews sweepstakes. James Duthie of TSN was quoted earlier this week stating that while 30th overall brings that 20%, it also brings an approximately 50% of choosing 4th overall. For some fans the be all to end all is for the Leafs to choose 1st on June 24th. There is plenty of talent coming up at the draft. The Leafs rebuild is still another four or five years from showing fruition.
Congratulations to Zach Hyman on your first NHL goal two nights ago. Anybody watching it saw what could be compared to a shark trailing down its prey with undeterred determination. As of press time there was no word on who will be starting.
Enjoy the game tonight.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Nikita Soshnikov – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Zach Hyman – William Nylander – Michael Grabner
Milan Michalek – Peter Holland – Brad Boyes
Colin Greening – Brooks Laich – Ben Smith
Matt Hunwick – Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner – Frank Corrado
Martin Marincin – Connor Carrick
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Brock Nelson – John Tavares – Ryan Strome
Josh Bailey – Frans Nielsen – Kyle Okposo
Anders Lee – Nikolay Kulemin – Shane Prince
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy – Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey – Travis Hamonic
Brian Strait – Ryan Pulock
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Gdiff (5v5) — -25
Gdiff (All) — -38
CF% (5v5) – 51.7
PP% – 14.7
PK% – 80.1
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Gdiff (5v5) — +10
Gdiff (All) — +26
CF% (5v5) – 50.1
PP% – 19.6
PK% – 86.6