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Tavares returns to Toronto as Isles face Maple Leafs

by Brian Compton /

ISLANDERS (8-8-7) at MAPLE LEAFS (4-11-6)

Last 10 -- New York 4-4-2; Toronto 3-4-3.

Season series -- This is the first of four meetings between the teams. Mikhail Grabovski scored the game-winner 50 seconds into overtime to lift Toronto to a 3-2 victory against the Isles on March 10 at the Air Canada Centre.

Big story -- Monday marks the return home for John Tavares, who was drafted first by the Islanders at the 2009 Entry Draft. Tavares, who grew up in the Toronto area, will surely be bombarded by the Canadian media in the morning before playing in his native city for the first time that night. Tavares has 9 goals and 10 assists in 23 games.

Team scope:

Islanders -- The weekend was somewhat of a reality check for the Isles, who were 2-0-2 on their seven-game road trip before coming away with nothing in Minnesota and St. Louis. New York dropped a 3-2 decision against the Wild on Friday when Owen Nolan scored with just 1:07 left in regulation. A horrendous third period led to a 4-1 loss to the Blues the following night.

''It definitely wasn't our game tonight,'' Islanders winger Trent Hunter said after Saturday's loss. ''Sometimes it takes a few minutes to get your legs going after playing the night before, but that wasn't the case. We can't use that as an excuse that we played (Friday) night.''

Maple Leafs -- Defense has been a major issue all season long for Toronto, which has allowed the first goal in 18 of 21 games. Such was the case again on Saturday, when Alex Ovechkin beat Vesa Toskala with 2:49 left in the opening period. But the Leafs tightened up defensively and managed to skate away with a 2-1 shootout victory against the Washington Capitals in Toronto.

''It shows we got character,'' Leafs defenseman Ian White said. ''We're not just going to fold over and skate away.''

Who's hot -- Second-year center Josh Bailey has goals in back-to-back games for the Islanders. … Niklas Hagman had a goal in regulation and again in the shootout in Toronto's win on Saturday.

Injury report -- Isles goalie Rick DiPietro is still working his way back from knee and hip injuries but hopes to return to action in the next 2-4 weeks. New York captain Doug Weight (upper body) and defenseman Radek Martinek (torn ACL) are also out. … Leafs defensemen Mike Komisarek (torn quad muscle) and Mike Van Ryn (knee) are out.

Stat pack -- Prior to Saturday's shootout win against Washington, the Leafs had lost five straight games and nine of 11 by one goal. It prompted Toronto GM Brian Burke to speak his mind.

"If we don't start winning, we have two options," Burke said. "One, we make a trade, and if I could make one that puts us in the playoffs, I would. But trades are hard to make.

"Two, we send somebody on a one-way (contract) down and call up the kids. That's the next step. We waive them and send them down, and if we lose them (on a waiver claim), we lose them."
Puck drop --
All eyes will be on Tavares in this one, which could be a good thing for the Islanders. Tavares is known to be the type of player who rises to the occasion, and one has to believe he'll want to put on a good show in front of his friends and family.

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