TORONTO, ON-– The New York Islanders begin their five-game road trip at the Air Canada Centre against an emerging and feisty Maple Leafs squad.
Both teams arrive to tonight’s matchup having come off important victories, but only the Leafs may boast theirs as being the more impressive and decisive of the two.
The Leafs proved to be less than gracious guests, bringing Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins a healthy dose of humble pie to their housewarming party.
Mikhail Grabovski, James van Riemsdyk, and Nikolai Kulemin showed generous amounts of speed, diligence, and tenacity at the CONSOL arena, burying the Pens 5-2, while racking up three goals and seven points among them in the process.
Netminder James Reimer proved to be stingier than expected against the offensive onslaught thought to be carried through by Crosby and co., stopping 28 out of 30 shots.
The Islanders played inspired and energetic hockey for two and half periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning this past Monday afternoon, and with David Ullstrom‘s goal, the fourth for the Islanders that day, coming early on in the third period, it seemed that they were poised to eclipse their poor showing against the Devils to open the season.
The Bolts went off-script, however, scoring three unanswered goals in the span of six minutes, almost tying it up before the final horn sounded.
Evgeni Nabokov looked especially solid between the pipes, and the overall energy and chemistry of the team readily apparent, until the first Bolts goal. Then things began to take a familiar turn for the worse. Luckily, Coach Capuano stopped the bleeding with a much needed timeout.
And thus, the Islanders’s chronic third period ailments returned from the lockout hiatus intact and ready to go, as this one issue practically broke their back last season and remains, for the time being, ever present.
Expect to see two teams who are somewhat evenly matched with regards to speed and talent (and public expectations, too!) but it is the Islanders that must make protecting any leads they are fortunate enough to muster, top priority.
Follow Rich Diaz @ eyesonisles
- Josh Bailey is out with a knee injury, while Jesse Joensuu recuperates from his groin issues
- Friendly fire: The Leafs Joffrey Lupul, a victim of a Dion Phaneuf shot in the second period last night, suffered a broken forearm and is expected to be out for six weeks. The season, basically.
- Hot shots: John Tavares had two assists against the Lightning, and is only getting better. He and his line-mates look hungry and are playing both sides of the puck extremely well. Matt Moulson should have a break out game today, if the team is running on all clyninders. Meaning: strong neutral zone play, accurate puck-cycling inside their own end, and consistent forechecking.
- The Tavares line will meet a mirror image of themselves in the Grabovski line. All about speed tonight. Speed, scoring early, and being stingy on defense. Keys to road success.
- Early prediction: if the Islanders come back to the Coliseum having won three or four out of five, there’s a good chance that momentum will setup a legitimate playoff run. Tough games against the Bruins, Jets, Penguins, and a home-at-home with the Devils will prove a playoff-type, frenetic atmosphere that will make or break this young team.