Jan 7, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) battles for the puck with New York Islanders right wing Michael Grabner (40) at Air Canada Centre. The Islanders won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

New York Islanders Vs Toronto Maple Leafs : Pre-Game Report


Islanders

Jan 7, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo (21) shoots the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Eyes On Isles Pre-Game Report

Tonight, the New York Islanders (22-30-8, 52 Points) host the Toronto Maple Leafs (32-22-6, 70 Points) in game no. 61 of the 2013-14 NHL season. Here’s what you need to know before puck drop…

Where: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York

When:  Thursday, February 27, 7:00 PM EST

TV: MSG Plus (Play by play : Howie Rose, Color : Butch Goring)

Radio: 88.7 FM WRHU, 103.9 FM WRCN (Chris King)

Opposition Blog: Editor In Leaf

 

The New York Islanders return to action tonight at Nassau Coliseum after the Olympic break as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs featuring a much younger and different looking lineup than Randy Carlyle is probably used to seeing, as well as Islander fans who will be in attendance.

New York has dropped five straight at home, as their struggles continue this season and will be looking to stop a red-hot Maple Leafs team who has won 11 of their last 14 games.

Head coach Jack Capuano faces an uphill battle, to say the least, as he will be without his captain and the third leading scorer in the entire league, John Tavares, who suffered a knee injury at the Olympics and will be lost for the rest of the regular season.

In addition, Frans Nielsen continues to nurse a broken hand back to health and Matt Martin picked up a mysterious lower body injury as well that will keep him out of action.

What that all means is that the first line from Islanders American Hockey League affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, will all dress this evening. Ryan Strome is back for his second stint with the club and will be joined by first timers Anders Lee (this season) and Mike Halmo (first NHL game).

As tough as it is to accept for Islanders fans, the season is all but over and the team will be playing these final 22 games to see what place they land themselves in for the upcoming 2014 NHL entry draft held in June. But that is not before being active sellers at the March 5 trade deadline. They now own the top chip on the market in winger Thomas Vanek and are also actively looking to move defenseman Andrew MacDonald, which would surely pave the way for the return of Matt Donovan.

Evgeni Nabokov will get the start in-goal and Matt Carkner will join Radek Martinek and Martin as scratches this evening. Brock Nelson, improving with each and every shift seemingly, will get a tremendous opportunity to center the first line in Tavares’ absence with Vanek and Kyle Okposo.

For Toronto, Phil Kessel comes in red-hot off a tremendous Olympics tournament and leads the team with 31 goals and 65 points. Middletown, New Jersey native James van Riemsdyk makes a return to the tri-state area second on the club, having a tremendous season with 24-23-47 in 58 games.

On the blueline, captain Dion Phaneuf paves the way with his hard-hitting style and has also posted 5-17-22 in 58 games.

Jonathan Bernier will be the starter in-goal, having taken the job from James Reimer to supplant himself as the bona-fide #1 for Carlyle.

Dave Bolland had a setback in his recovery from injury and is not expected to play tonight.

 

What They’re Saying

  •  “Obviously we know how important he is to our hockey club,” coach Jack Capuano said. “When you talk about a most valuable player to your team, the way that we play and the success we’ve had, he is a big part of that.”
  • “You can’t replace a guy like (Tavares), but everyone has an opportunity to pick up the slack,” forward Colin McDonald told the Islanders’ official website. “Hopefully guys are looking forward to it.”
  • “We’ve gotten some big wins,” defenseman Dion Phaneuf said after the Maple Leafs (32-22-6) beat Vancouver 3-1 on Feb. 8. “We wanted to get as many points as we could going into the break and we did that.”

 

Quick Hitters

  •  All time vs Leafs 69-56-13, 4-1-2 in last 7
  • Reinforcements: The Islanders recalled the Sound Tigers’ top forward line of Mike Halmo, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome on Monday. The trio currently lead Bridgeport in scoring. Strome’s 49 points (13g/36a) in 37 games pace the team and rank second among AHL rookies (Strome has played 17 fewer games than the current rookie leader). Lee’s 41 points in 54 games rank second on the Sound Tigers, but his 22 goals lead the team and rank second among AHL rookies
  • Debut: Mike Halmo is set to make his NHL debut tonight. The Islanders signed Halmo as a free agent on March 10, 2012, after the undrafted winger completed a four-year junior career with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. Halmo had 165 points (76g/89a) in 247 games with Owen Sound.
  • Killers: The Islanders have allowed just one power-play goal in their last seven games, killing 17-of-18 over that stretch
  • Career Highs: With 22 games to play, Kyle Okposo has already exceeded his career highs in goals, assists and points. Frans Nielsen has set a new career high in goals (18).
  • Need For 3: The Isles are 19-7-3 when they score at least three goals and are 3-23-5 when they do not.

 

Projected Lineup

Forwards
26 Thomas Vanek – 29 Brock Nelson – 21 Kyle Okposo
15 Cal Clutterbuck – 12 Josh Bailey – 40 Michael Grabner
27 Anders Lee – 18 Ryan Strome – 13 Colin McDonald
43 Mike Halmo – 53 Casey Cizikas – 36 Eric Boulton

Defensemen

37 Brian Strait – 47 Andrew MacDonald
14 Thomas Hickey – 11 Lubomir Visnovsky
44 Calvin de Haan – 3 Travis Hamonic

Goaltenders
20 Evgeni Nabokov
60 Kevin Poulin

Scratches

Radek Martinek
7 Matt Carkner
17 Matt Martin

Injured Reserve : 51 Frans Nielsen, 91 John Tavares

 

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