Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Islanders: Game #64

Time: 7 p.m.

Location: One of their arenas, not sure which.

Broadcast/Streaming: TSN4, MSG+

Opponent SBNation Site: A place no one is going to troll, and if you do, on your head be it.

Now, to get you in the mood:

Note: Yes, I do know the name of this band offends some people. Once upon a time horns that raunchy offended a lot more people, so you know, time marches on.

If you’ve somehow missed the fact that the Islanders fans have taken to calling John Tavares “snake”, well, what better source to cite than Wikipedia:

All I can say is that true sophisticates spell it pyjamas. Oh, speaking of...

The snake is indeed returning to the Island, and if there was justice in the world, some member of the Leafs would wear a zoot suit, but you can’t have everything.

As you may have heard, defencemen are getting hurt on the Leafs faster than players flee the Islanders in free agency, but the Leafs aren’t worried. This is where the world’s largest collection of third-pair defenders comes in very handy.

With a 50 per cent reduction in Jakes, and a 100 per cent drop in Travises tonight, there will be an increase in Justin and Martin content.  And this is fine. TOTALLY FINE.

If the Pittsburgh Penguins can roll toward the playoffs with Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson both, the Leafs will do fine.

Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen
Patrick Marleau - William Nylander - Connor Brown
Tyler Ennis - Frederik Gauthier - Trevor Moore

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Muzzin - Nikita Zaitsev
Martin Marincin - Justin Holl


Frederik Andersen
Garret Sparks - starter

New York Islanders

Lines from Cap Friendly’s depth chart which are based on ice time averages. I don’t believe they line the team up this way, but they do play it more or less like this, and that’s fascinating.

Forward Lines

Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Jordan Eberle
Andrew Ladd - Mathew Barzal - Leo Komarov
Anthony Beauvillier - Valtteri Filppula - Josh Bailey
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Defence Pairings

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Adam Pelech - Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews - Thomas Hickey


Robin Lehner
Thomas Greiss

(AKA the tandem of doom. It doesn’t matter who starts, if he’s crap, the other guy won’t be.)

With the the last couple of wins, the Maple Leafs, who are still third in the Atlantic, now have more points than the Islanders, who are perched very precariously atop the Metro. One interesting thing to look at is ROW, where the Leafs are third league-wide, and the Islanders are ninth.  Goal differential heavily favours the Islanders with that amazing goalie due, so they are fourth league-wide in that measure.

If I look at Expected Goals on the year, the Islanders are even with the Leafs at a bit over 50 per cent, but their shotshare isn’t as good. What the Islanders are doing is playing an extremely low-event style of hockey — they are the most boring team in the NHL this season — and they’re getting that balanced Expected Goals on the quality of their offence from a very small group of players. The interesting thing is that two of them are on the fourth line (the not-Matt Martin members of the fourth line). Those guys are also the only genuinely gifted defensive players on the team, everyone else is average.

What the extreme low-event style of play does for the Islanders is disguise their lack of talent by reducing the risk from mistakes. If you never do anything, nothing goes wrong. This is the ‘simple game’ played all game long, in all situations, and taken to an extreme. Normcore hockey, perhaps. Add in the super hot like burning seasons from both goalies, and a not very gifted team wins a lot of games. Being in a division full of teams all at a level just barely better than them, and you’ve got a recipe for precarious success that might not survive the next few games where teams play hard for playoff spots.

What the Leafs have to do is blast that dull dampening field all to hell and force them to play. Make them try to skate with the Leafs. Make them move, and force them to make mistakes. And while they’re at it, maybe keep an eye on Mat Barzal and Anders Lee, because not every player on the team is lacking skill.

The Leafs will absolutely make mistakes. They’ll leave the ice looking like the morning after a night much more exciting than the Islanders usually have. That’s who they are. Don’t cry over their spilt milk, they aren’t.

The last time these two teams met, the Leafs played two periods of Islanders hockey, spilt a lot of milk, and then played like the Leafs fruitlessly for one period. They never got near the net like they can until the third, and they got fouled up on the defensive disruption of the Islanders. So tonight (stop me if you’ve heard this before) would be a good night to have the flow going from puck drop.

Go Leafs Go! And don’t forget to wear your pyjamas for this game.