The Islanders kick off the final 22 games of the regular season against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Nassau Coliseum.
The season series is on the line, as the Leafs make their first trip to Long Island this season. The teams split the first two games at Air Canada Centre, with the Islanders taking the most recent outing 5-3.
The Leafs won seven-of-10 heading into the Olympic break, but with nearly three weeks between games, it feels like a fresh start for the final stretch.
Ahead of tonight’s game, the Islanders held an optional skate, while the Leafs iced a full squad. Here are some news, notes and quotes from Thursday’s skate.
Nielsen/Martin: Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin are both out of tonight’s lineup with injuries. Nielsen is still recovering from a broken hand, while Martin is out with a lower-body injury. Both players skated in today’s morning skate.
Ironmen: Andrew MacDonald takes the reigns as the Islanders ironman, as he is set to play his 162nd consecutive game. MacDonald takes the title, as Nielsen misses his first contest since the beginning of the 2011-12 season (190 consecutive games). Martin’s ironman streak ends at 121 games.
Nabby Starts: Evgeni Nabokov gets the start tonight for the Islanders. This is Nabokov’s first game against the Leafs this season.
Halmo’s Debut: Mike Halmo is set to make his NHL debut tonight. The Sound Tigers call-up will skate on a line with Eric Boulton and Casey Cizikas.
Halmo on Debut: I woke up this morning at 7 a.m., probably an hour before my alarm clock and couldn’t go back to bed. My heart was racing and I had butterflies in my stomach. But coming out here to skate and get the jitters out, I feel good.
Starring Role: Brock Nelson will center the top line and top power-play unit in the absence of John Tavares and Frans Nielsen.
Bailey at Center: Josh Bailey will center the second line with Michael Grabner and Cal Cluttebuck.
Happy Birthday Casey: Casey Cizikas turns 23-years-old today.
From the Coach: I’m looking to get work ethic, commitment, focus and desperation in their game. We’ve had some good meetings over the last few days. I talked to the guys about having a singular focus, meaning shift-by-shift, period-by-period. We can’t look ahead; we have to focus on the task at hand. Those guys are obviously getting a great opportunity… and will probably play more minutes than they would otherwise with the injuries that we have. I expect they’ll work hard and they’ll be excited, but I just want them to play poised and composed.
Phil the Thrill: Phil Kessel leads the Leafs in goals (31), assists (34) points (65) and was recently named the top forward at the Sochi Winter Olympics. The American winger was tied for the tournament lead in goals (five) with Michael Grabner and points (eight).
Supporting Scorers: James van Reimsdyk is second in team scoring with 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) and Tyler Bozak has 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 36 games this season.
Shots Against: The Leafs are allowing a league-high 36.2 shots per game. The Islanders have taken 62 shots in their two games against the Leafs this season.
Penalty Kill: The Leafs have allowed a league high 44 power-play goals, but boast the league’s second-best power play, converting at 22.2%.