An important game in the East takes place in the Eastern conference as the New York Islanders face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and if New York pulls off a win, they will be able to pas the Leafs in the standings, if they can win in regulation tonight the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
That positioning just shows how much luck has changed for the Islanders in the last little while. Playing against the Leafs will be fun, since they are coming off a confident win, which they took convincingly 5-1 over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday afternoon. This game came after a tough loss 3-0 to the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday. So, surely they’ll want to continue the upswing.
The Islanders are 25-19-10, and when they fire their coach, Jack Capuano, just under a month ago, they had the fewest points in the Eastern Conference. He was replaced by new coach Doug Weight, on an interim basis, but with the recent performance he might just stick.
They have gone 10-3-2 in the past 15 games, and because of it, they’ve moved within one point of the Leafs who are 25-18-11, and as of today are in a playoff position.
“We knew the talent and work ethic and the right attitude was in here,” Islanders center John Tavares said. “It’s such a long season and things get written off so early. I think we see how tight the East is. … There was a change with (Weight) and we kept improving and we’ve made our games meaningful now.”
The Maple Leafs have perked up and taken notice.
“I never ever thought they weren’t a good team,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after practice on Monday. “I don’t think anyone really thought that. I mean they have an elite, elite center in John Tavares. They have good players. Now they seem to have gotten excited and got it going. They’re 6-2-2 in their last 10.”
The last time they met the Islanders beat the Maple Leafs 6-5 in overtime in Brooklyn, just a little while ago, on Feb. 6. The Leafs allowed them to come back from their leads of 4-2 and 5-4.
“They found a way to win the game,” said Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock. “We’ve got to find a way to win a game at home.”
“You have to play the full 60, or most of it, to get the right results,” Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “We’ve been doing a better job of that of late.”
Tavares has played well with Anders Lee and Josh Bailey on the Islanders’ first line which has had some punch lately. Lee has 20 goals and 12 assists in his past 35 games. “I think (Lee) and (Bailey) have proved a lot of people wrong as far as guys who can play those kind of minutes,” Weight said. “They’ve helped Johnny in a lot of ways, too.”
The Islanders beat the Leafs 5-1 on Oct. 30 back at the beginning of the seaon too. So the Leafs know now is the time to get back at these guys, and not let themselves be so easily overtaken. Toronto though, has lost six of its past eight games, which includes two in a row, a lack-lustre 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, and a hard-fought 2-1 in overtime to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.
We haven’t played as well night in and night out as we’re capable of playing,” Babcock said. “Our team didn’t get off to a good start last game (trailing Buffalo 3-0 after the first period Saturday). We looked lethargic. They won all the battles. They were better than us.”
“We understand that we’re going to the other teams’ best,” Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said to local media on Monday. “But they’re going to see our best as well.
“I feel we’re in a great position here. If we looked at the beginning of the season and wrote this down two-thirds of the way through the season, we would have taken it. I really feel like collectively that we all have another gear here and what better time to show it.”
Maple Leafs right winger Nikita Soshnikov, who was out the last two games with an upper-body injury, was able to practice with the Leafs yesterday but is not 100% for tonight’s game.
Frederik Andersen should start in goal, and he’ll need to keep them in, if they want to have a chance to win.
“I think we want to ply in the offensive zone a little bit more,” Maple Leafs left winger James van Riemsdyk said. “That’s a good way to wear down the other team and makes it harder for them to create offense when the puck is obviously farther away from our net.”
Babcock said, “There are lots of points available. The most important two right now are (Tuesday) night because it’s the one we’re playing.” So, as the Leafs focus on an important, almost playoff like game tonight, expect their rookies to be on their game, and for them to be jumping out of the gate to win this one at home.