When the Islanders come to town tonight, they'll be looking to extend their dominance. They sit at the top of the Metro division with 88 points, ahead of the Rangers and the Penguins, and are 5-2-3 in their last 10 games. It's a complete turnaround from last season, when the Islanders were last place in the Metro and fifth last in the league. Their offense is great, their defense is pretty solid, and they finally have decent goaltending. Simply put, the Islanders are a team on the rise that's actually fun to watch. Playoffs are always a coin flip, but depending on their first-round matchup, the Islanders might be able to win a playoff round for the first time since the 1992-93 season.
Meanwhile, the Leafs are fourth last in the league, and might even fall to third last (Buffalo and Edmonton seem pretty firmly established at 29 and 30, but Arizona could rise). Nazem Kadri has been scratched for being late, in what would have been straightforward discipline and not a news story, except this is Toronto and so it's a huge deal in the media and people are blathering about leadership. He's being replaced by Zach Sill, who the announcers kept calling "Zach Still" on Thursday--a truly apt pronunciation error. At this point, the Leafs are just trying to get this season over with. The players probably want some wins. The fans definitely don't.
This game could work out great for both the Islanders and the Leafs. With an Islanders win, they tighten their grip on first place in the Metro, while a Leafs loss keeps that top four draft pick within reach. Whenever the Islanders play, there's an opportunity for Leafs fans to once again watch Nicolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski and remember the good times. (Unfortunately, Grabovski is sidelined with an injury, but Kulemin will be in the lineup.)
The Islanders also give hope to struggling teams. Not too long ago, they were struggling too, and their management wasn't doing them any favors. Inept teams everywhere, the Leafs included, can look at the Islanders and dream that they, too, might be first in their conference one day. And the Islanders can help make that dream a reality by beating the Leafs tonight. Please.
-The scoring stays pretty close, but ultimately the Islanders come out on top and win 5-3.
-Kulemin scores in the first two minutes of the game.
-Every five minutes the broadcast will cut to Kadri sitting in the press box, eating popcorn.