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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 1:34 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Isles look to avoid series sweep at hands of Leafs

TORONTO -- The New York Islanders have fallen to the Toronto Maple Leafs on three occasions this season and will attempt to snap the slide Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre in the fourth and final meeting between the two clubs.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano will start Evgeni Nabokov in goal and said he will ice the same lineup that came away with a 3-2 shootout win in Montreal on Saturday

"(It will be) the same forward lines as Montreal and we're going to dress seven defensemen and determine (who is in) after warm-up," Capuano said.

The seventh defenseman that is most likely to sit is Steve Staios, who skated this morning but was shaking his head and wincing while testing his stride. The 38-year-old is having issues with a groin injury.

Isles star John Tavares, who is from the Toronto area, had his four-game points streak snapped in Montreal. A few days off between games, with extra time to catch up with friends and family, is something the 21-year old welcomed.

"I got a nice couple of days to relax and not have all the craziness within the 24 hours," Tavares said, referring to the brief window of time he usually has when he comes back to Toronto for a game.

The last time Tavares played at the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 23, he had his 12-game points streak snapped as the Islanders were shut out 3-0.

"All the games were pretty tight all year," Tavares said. "Obviously we haven't come out and got the result we wanted. It was a little bit of a while ago so (we have to) just try and come in tonight and jump on them early. They played last night and had a tough one, so I am sure they will try and respond tonight."

The "tough one" Tavares was referring to was Toronto's 8-0 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. As expected, no one skated this morning for the Maple Leafs and it remains up in the air if Randy Carlyle will shuffle his lines and who will be between the pipes for the blue and white when they hit the ice later tonight.

While not mathematically eliminated, neither club is expected to be playing any postseason hockey this year.  Regardless, New York forward Matt Moulson foresees that both clubs to play with a charge.

"They are going to come out with a spark and some spunk and we will be ready for that right off the start," he said.

Here's tonight's projected lineup for the Islanders:

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Frans Nielsen - Josh BaileyPA Parenteau
David Ullstrom - Casey Cizikas - Michael Grabner
Matt Martin - Marty Reasoner - Nino Niederreiter

Mark Streit - Dylan Reese
Travis Hamonic - Andrew Macdonald
Mark Eaton - Milan Jurcina

Evgeni Nabokov
Al Montoya
Posted On Saturday, 03.10.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Flyers trying to stay perfect in March

Philadelphia is perfect in March and look to keep things rolling Saturday night in Toronto against a Maple Leafs squad that is fading fast in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

The Flyers have won all four games in March, including a 5-0 drubbing of the Florida Panthers on Thursday.  Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 28 shots for his second shutout in his past three starts and will be in net again tonight for Philadelphia.

The perfect start to the month is more impressive when factoring in the injuries to the Flyers blueline corps. Andrej Meszaros, Kimmo Timonen and newcomer Pavel Kubina are all out of the lineup with different ailments.

In their place on the ice this morning were rookies Eric Gustafsson and Brandon Manning, who will play in just his second career game.

Manning is not the only player who will hit the ice tonight with limited NHL experience.  Toronto’s deadline-day acquisition, Carter Ashton, will make his home debut after playing in his first game Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

“Its' been a whirlwind for sure.  I’m just trying to take it day by day and try to make the best of it,” Ashton said.  “With the few days I have been here, I have obviously learned a lot, jumping into my first NHL game.  I was nervous going into it, but got a chance to be in the starting line –up which got me right into it.”

 His father, Brent, is former a NHL player who is expected to be in attendance along with some other family members.   The senior Ashton played for nine NHL teams including Winnipeg where a fellow Jet was current Leafs coach Randy Carlyle.

 The tight lipped Toronto bench boss is expected to start Jonas Gustavsson for the fifth straight game which gives “The Monster” the task of garnering the Leafs their first win this season against the Flyers.  Toronto dropped the first two games by a combined score of 8-5.
“They are a bruising hockey club and they do some things aggressively on the forecheck," Carlyle said. "They are a hockey club that takes the most penalties in the League, so if we can exploit that and get our speed game going, that’s what we have to focus on."

It will also mark the first time the Schenn brothers do battle in a regular-season game in Toronto.  The younger of the two, Brayden, scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal for the Flyers in the last meeting between the clubs February 9 in Philadelphia.

Older brother Luke, who patrols the blue line for Toronto, looks forward to another battle tonight, one that neither of the siblings feel ever gets old. 

“It definitely hasn’t worn off," Luke Schenns said. "It’s always pretty cool every time you get the chance to play against your little brother.”
Posted On Tuesday, 02.28.2012 / 2:06 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Versteeg out for Panthers; Leafs go with Reimer

TORONTO -- Leading goal scorer Kris Versteeg will not play for the Florida Panthers versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night. 

"He has a little bit of a lower-body injury that has been bugging him for about a week," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said after the morning skate. "He's wanted to play through it, but when he is not 100 percent he doesn't have that extra step."

Dineen confirmed that Versteeg did not make the trip to Toronto and will not play until being evaluated next week. 

It is expected Dineen will use Wojtek Wolski and Jack Skille to varying degrees in hopes of filling the void left by Versteeg's absence. 

Versteeg did play in Florida's victory over Montreal on Sunday, but did not finish the game.

Jose Theodore will start in net for the Panthers, while Toronto coach Ron Wilson has elected to start James Reimer despite being critical of the netminder's performance in a loss to Washington on Saturday night.

"It's Reimer, because we believe he can get the job done," Wilson said in his pre-game press conference. 

Wilson, who will be coaching his 1,400th NHL game, confirmed defenseman Mike Komisarek will also be in the lineup, taking the place of Cody Franson.

"It's very competitive on our back end," Wilson said. "Sometimes he is out because other guys have played better, sometimes he is out because we have won with a certain group. Tonight he needs to be physical and make simple plays, move the puck, keep it out of the middle and be aggressive."

Komisarek has been a healthy scratch for the past four games and last saw action on Feb. 15.

The Panthers visit will mark the end of Toronto's four-game homestand in which the Leafs have only earned one of a possible six points. It will be the third meeting between the two clubs, with the Panthers having taken both previous meetings by a combined score of 10-4. The 10th-place Maple Leafs trail the Panthers by five points in the Eastern Conference race.

The Panthers have taken five of a possible six points in their past three games.
Posted On Saturday, 02.25.2012 / 6:17 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Neuvirth gets the nod against Maple Leafs

TORONTO -- Michal Neuvirth will get the start for the Washington Capitals tonight versus the Toronto Maple Leafs after backstopping his club to a 4-1 victory Friday in Montreal.

"He was solid, he didn't give up many rebounds," Caps coach Dale Hunter said. "We didn't have a lot of work for him last night, so it wasn't like a real hard game for him.  With this team here, with the speed they got and the scoring they got, he's going to have to be really ready in the first period."

Neuvirth relieved Tomas Vokoun in a 7-1 road loss to the Maple Leafs on Nov. 19.  He allowed 3 goals on 11 shots after entering play in the second period.

Defenseman Mike Green echoed Hunter's sentiments.

"I thought he was outstanding. He made the big saves when he needed to," Green said. "I am sure it's not easy for him because he is in and out of the lineup. He handles himself very well and we need more out of him down the stretch.  We need to win some games and it's going to start with our goaltending."

Green, who has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time in the past three games, says he is getting close to hitting his stride since returning from abdominal injury on Feb. 18.

"It's taken these last couple of games to get my feel again with being out so long," Green said. "I'm finally starting to come into my own again and feel the way I used to.

Green has not faced the Leafs in the two games the clubs have played this season.

Hunter, an Ontario native, will coach his first NHL game in Toronto.

"It's always nice to come to Toronto," Hunter said. "It's near my hometown and I grew up watching the Leafs."
Posted On Saturday, 02.25.2012 / 2:03 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Leafs, Caps vie for critical points at ACC

The Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Washington Capitals tonight at Air Canada Centre in what will be there third meeting this season.  Each team has won once.

As it stands, both clubs are on the outside of the playoff picture with 65 points and trailing the eighth-place Florida Panthers by one in the standings.

For Toronto, getting off to the right start is imperative. They have not held a lead after the first 20 minutes in the first two games of their current homestand and ended up losing both contests by one goal.

“That’s what we need tonight, is to be aggressive right off the bat and take it to them as quickly as possible, not wait.” coach Ron Wilson said.  “We’ve got to initiate things, especially with Washington and us in the (same) proximity in the standings and the fact they played last night.”

Wilson also confirmed that James Reimer would start in goal for the second straight game.

Joffrey Lupul, the Leafs second-leading scorer, acknowledged that opponents have been looking to mitigate Toronto’s speed, something which has contributed to their recent woes. 

“It’s something we got to be prepared for, we might not get 15 or 20 scoring chances in a game but we have to be ready to score when we do," Lupul said. "On the other hand we have to limit other team’s chances.  These guys are a team with a lot of top end talent.  We want to try and limit Ovechkin and Semin in their time and space.”

Leafs forward Darryl Boyce and was claimed off waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.  Boyce had a goal and an assist in 17 games for Toronto this season.  Fellow forward Jay Rosehill cleared waivers and was sent to Toronto’s AHL Affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.

The moves made room for the Maple Leafs to call up forward Matt Frattin, who will play tonight.  The rookie has 10 points in 37 games with the Leafs so far this season.  Forward Colby Armstrong will also play tonight.

After a 4-1 win Friday against Montreal, the Capitals had only four players on the ice for the morning skate. Goalie Tomas Vokoun was on the ice but Michal Neurvirth is expected to start for the second straight night after stopping 30 shots for the victory Friday.
Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:42 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Maple Leafs, Sharks both badly in need of two points

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks rarely play each other, but when they do battle Thursday night at Air Canada Center, it will be a contest between two teams that share some troubling similarities.

Both clubs have been struggling as of late and are fighting to hold on to a playoff position in their respective conferences.

The Maple Leafs will start James Reimer after Jonas Gustavsson had a tough night between the pipes on Tuesday night, allowing Mark Fayne's knuckling shot to get by him in overtime in a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils. With that loss, Toronto is 1-5-1 in the past seven games heading into action on Thursday.

"That game is in the past, I don't really even want to talk about it," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said after the morning skate Thursday. "We have to move forward very quickly, whether you win a game or you lose a game. Our thoughts are not even close to two nights ago, they are focused on what we have to do to play well as a group today and beat a team that's got a lot of experience, a lot of skill up front. ... They are a very good team and we expect a tough game tonight."

Toronto currently holds on to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, tied with ninth-place Winnipeg with 65 points.

One of the many talented players Phaneuf and the Leafs defensive corps will have to deal with is Sharks forward Logan Couture. Couture has set a blistering pace since the All-Star break, recording 15 points in 11 games.  However, as well as he has played, helping correct his team's losing ways is what is on his mind.  

"It's nice scoring goals but you'd rather have the team winning games," Couture said. "I'd rather go goalless for five games if the team could win the next five."

The Sharks are coming off an unexpected 6-3 loss to last place Columbus and have one point in their last four outings. Despite Niemi being pulled versus the Jackets, Sharks coach Todd McLellan has elected to start him again tonight with plenty on the line. A Sharks loss tonight combined with a Coyotes win could drop San Jose to seventh place.

"We're in a playoff race right now, something that we haven't been accustomed to, normally we're out in front,"  McLellan said. "I had to remind the players of that yesterday. Toronto's in the same boat we are, I expect both teams to be competitive from minute one on through."

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Life's about opportunity and how you respond to that opportunity, and obviously he must have some swagger about him, some confidence about him, because he was solid. He made some good saves. He was 6-foot-3 on every shot, which is a good thing for a goalie. He played well. We got a win.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock on rookie goaltender Garret Sparks, who made 24 saves in his first NHL start, a 3-0 win vs. Oilers
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