By: Spencer Lussier
Fresh off another break for the All-Star festivities, the Toronto Maple Leafs kickoff their final push into the playoffs starting with the New York Islanders tonight.
Toronto was rolling heading into the All-Star break, with two big wins on the road in Chicago and Dallas. The offence seems to have found a spark with Mike Babcock tinkering his lines, most notably the offensive presence Mitch Marner on the second line with Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri. That line has combined for five points in those two wins, with many more scoring opportunities accounted for as well. It will be interesting to see if that line picks up where they left off or are cooled down as a result of the break. Jake Gardiner has been another Leaf on a tear lately with nine assists in the last five games, and will look to be getting some friends back too on the blue line. Both Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev was back at practice Tuesday, and seems likely they will return to the lineup this week. Zaitsev is the most likely set to return tonight, as he was slotted next to Travis Dermott on the second pairing in practice yesterday. Zaitsev has missed the Leafs last 17 games with a broken foot.
The New York Islanders have been a pretty inconsistent all season long and as a result sits in second last in the Metropolitan division. Despite their struggles, the Islanders own one of the most dangerous offensive units. They are ranked second only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for goals for with 170 so far this season. Obviously with names like Tavares, Barzal, Eberle and Lee, it’s not hard to understand why the Islanders offence is so potent. Yet the offence haven’t been able to outscore their issues on the back end and in net. They are ranked first in the league for goals allowed with 183, 15 more than the second-place Arizona Coyotes. Another reason for the very high goals allowed total is that the Islanders have the second worst penalty kill in the league. So that looks like a biggest mismatch tonight as the Leafs own the sixth best power play. It is essential for the Leafs to limit the offence on New York, who will be looking to bounce back in a big way after a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers last night.
Player to Watch on New York: Josh Bailey
With John Tavares being the Islanders most impactful player, it would be easy to have his name as the player to watch, but everyone knows that. Instead the player to watch for the Islanders tonight is Tavares’ running mate Josh Bailey. After a career high 56 points last year, Bailey has continued his phenomenal play entering his name into the race for being one of the best playmakers in the game. Bailey currently sits with 55 points in 47 games this season and has already tied his career high in assists with 43. His most dangerous weapon is his vision, being able to pass with ease through tight lanes becoming the perfect complement to John Tavares. The Islanders also have a lot of faith in the 28-year-old on the power play with 22 power play points, Bailey acts as the “quarterback” on the man advantage with the power play going through him.
Watchability Scale: 7/10
I am expecting a pretty high scoring game tonight. I think the Leafs offence has a lot of faith in their new roles that will translate into more scoring, and the Islanders are looking to bounce back after a terrible game last night. I am expecting a good night for the Leafs, as they should be able to take advantage of the Islanders depleted d-core. I give this game a 7/10, as I expect it to still be a good game, but the first period will be slow, with the Leafs coming back from their break and the Islanders playing last night.