Maple Leafs (12-14-7) at Islanders (19-11-5)
TVAS, SN, MSG+
Before I begin, I would like to say to all the readers that I hoped you had a great Christmas and enjoyed the holidays with friends and family!
With that introduction out of the way, it is time to watch Leafs hockey again. The last time they played was against the Arizona Coyotes where they lost 3-2 in a sloppy performance overall. Tonight’s “Hometown Hockey” has the Leafs playing in Brooklyn for the first time as they set to take on the tough New York Islanders to end the road trip that technically started before the holiday freeze.
The Islanders are no slouch of an opponent; they have been one of the better teams in the league of late and have the ever-so-dangerous duo of John Tavares and Kyle Okposo to pile on offense. They head into this game on a 6-3-1 stretch and are looking to gain ground on the surging Washington Capitals for first in the Metropolitan.
Because of this, the Leafs better be ready to come to the rink to play when the puck drops. Not simply because of what is at stake for the opposition, but to also not show any signs of wear and tear from a long rest. Despite missing some key members in their lineup (Okposo and Jaraslav Halak), the Islanders will still give the Leafs a hard time getting organized if they aren’t prepared to play.
Speaking of organization, the defenses and goaltendings consistency continues to be an issue for the Leafs. After a dominating match against the L.A. Kings, where Bernier earned his first win in a shutout, the Leafs followed that up by allowing 7 goals in the next two games combined. As Bernier is expected to get the start, it is important that he continues to build his confidence and have another solid performance to make Babcock’s goaltending more difficult (which is a good thing).
The offense is in danger of going though a dry spell once again, so it’s going to take a strong defensive performance if the Leafs are going to sneak out a win. As I previously stated, consistency is an issue, but there have been moments where it worked effectively for the Leafs and the results were mostly positive as a result. The good one needs to be on display against a strong offensive team, the Islanders in this case, so it will be up to the likes of Matt Hunwick, Morgan Rielly, and Roman Polak to close the door and limit as many scoring chances as they can.
The Islanders also house a fairly strong team on the back end, so the Leafs will need to capitalize on all their chances in the offensive zone. This is because the Islanders expected goalie, backup Thomas Greiss, is having a solid season and has provided the Islanders with impressive goaltending depth. As a result, a timely goal from the likes of Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, James van Reimsdyk, and Joffrey Lupul will be necessary if the Leafs are going to win this one.
Basically, the Leafs need to play strong defensively all night to give the Islanders top players as little quality chances as they can, and the Leafs offense needs to come though at the right to get a win in Brooklyn.
James Reimer will be returning to the Leafs lineup, hopefully for good, as he’ll be Bernier’s backup for the game tonight. No word as of yet when Garret Sparks and Nick Spaling will be activated off injury reserved, though it appears that Sparks will be returning to the Marlies once he is good to go unless be another goalie injury. (I probably jinxed it, didn’t I?)
Here’s to hope that this game will be a positive distraction from William Nylander’s head injury and Team Canada’s slow start at the WJC yesterday. If nothing else, there is always a rematch match that will be coming two days laters.
And of course…Go Leafs Go!
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Michael Grabner – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Daniel Winnik – Peter Holland – Joffrey Lupul
Shawn Matthias – Byron Froese – Brad Boyes
Matt Hunwick – Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner – Dion Phaneuf
Roman Polak – Martin Marincin
Brock Nelson – John Tavares – Ryan Strome
Josh Bailey – Frans Nielsen – Kyle Okposo
Anders Lee – Mikhail Grabovski – Nikolay Kulemin
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy – Travis Hamonic
Calvin de Haan – Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey – Brian Strait