Tonight, the Maple Leafs visit the New York Islanders for their penultimate visit to Nassau Coliseum. There will be a familiar face in the lineup, as Nikolay Kulemin takes on his former team for the first time. Both he and former Leaf Mikhail Grabovski signed deals on the same day with the Islanders this past off-season.
Grabovski will not be taking part, after suffering concussion-like symptoms following an open ice hit from San Jose’s John Scott. Here’s a look at what the Leafs will have to key in on.
Limit John Tavares
The Islanders started the season 4-0 and have just come off their very first loss of the season (4-1 vs Pittsburgh). During the winning streak, Tavares amassed two goals and seven assists. The quickest Tavares has ever reached nine points before was in the 2011-12 season, where he had ten points through six games. It will be incumbent upon the Leafs best forecheckers to neutralize him. Expect the line of Leo Komarov - Mike Santorelli - David Clarkson to see increased ice-time, in an effort to neutralize him. That could prove difficult like it did in Detroit, with the Islanders having the last line change.
Nazem Kadri Has To Provide Offence
Kadri has gone three consecutive games without scoring a point. Secondary scoring is key to success and the Islanders present the Leafs an opportunity for Kadri’s line to break out of their funk. The Leafs hope that past success will serve Kadri well. He has nine points in eight career games against the Islanders, including a hat trick at the Coliseum back in 2013. While Jaroslav Halak has three wins, his numbers haven’t been impressive. He’s currently 27th and 26th in the NHL in goals against average and save percentage, respectively.
Ignite The Power-Play
The Maple Leafs have had a modest power-play this season. They are currently ranked 13th in the NHL at 20.8%. That number should go up, with the Islanders holding a league worst 58.8% penalty kill. New York have given up seven power-play goals over five games and gave two power-play goals in a game on three different occasions during this young season. On the flip side, the Islanders are dangerous with the man-advantage, ranking 5th.
The Leafs must not underestimate the Islanders defence: Off-season acquisitions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, give the Isles some much needed experience in their back end. The best tact for the Leafs, is to stick to playing their tight defensive game. Tavares, along with Brock Nelson and Kyle Okposo, have combined for 24 points through five games. If Toronto engages in an all-out shooting gallery, the Leafs will be in for a long night.