Toronto Maple Leafs @ New York Islanders
07:00 PM at UBS Arena
Watch on: TVAS, SN, MSGSN
The Leafs last game was on December 9, where they won in a shutout over the Nashville Predators. Their record is 14-6-4.
The Islanders last game was on December 9, where they beat the LA Kings in overtime . Their record is 12-7-7.
For all that the talk we hear is of the Leafs' preponderance of one-goal, overtime and shootout games, the Islanders are having a very similar season. Their path to this outcome is very different, however.
The Islanders have the third highest team Save % at five-on-five, which allows them to stay in games they shouldn't be in. See their most recent win over the Kings as an example. Meanwhile their possession figures are terrible, and their Expected Goals % is mediocre. Their Expected Goals rate on the power play is 20th in the league. Their goals against short handed is very high, surprisingly.
It would be incorrect to say the team is built from the net out, however. They have goalies, Noah Dobson, and a few good offensive players. Their defending is very bad, with an Expected Goals Against rate that is sixth worst in the NHL.
Their offence seems to suit Pierre Engvall, who never had good results in either Expected or actual Goals For impact on the Leafs. On the Islanders, he's actually valuable offensively, and is a team-standard bit of bad news defensively.
I can't find out what's up with Matt Martin, however. He came off IR in November – preventing a recall by taking a roster spot – but the coach says he's not ready to play.
You may have noticed the Islanders traded for depth defender Robert Bortuzzo the other day. He's there to replace Ryan Pulock, who is on IR.
From morning skate:
Anders Lee - Bo Horvat - Mathew Barzal
Pierre Engvall - Brock Nelson - Kyle Palmieri
Simon Holmstrom - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Julien Gauthier
Hudson Fasching - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Alexander Romanov - Noah Dobson
Samuel Bolduc - Robert Bortuzzo
Mike Reilly - Scott Mayfield
Ilya Sorokin - assumed starter
The Leafs helped the Predators help Ilya Samsonov get a shutout in his first game as the starter during Joe Woll's time on LTIR. They need to keep doing that because the Islanders aren't likely to let the Leafs score four or more to make up for a leaky Samsonov. And it looks like it will be necessary to get power play time to really get a chance to get the puck over the line.
Here's the numbers that count: Auston Matthews, five-on-five, Expected Goals %: 52. Mitch Marner: 46%. Matthew Knies: 46%.
I have deep skepticism of the Max Domi third line because they keep losing matchups against mildly difficult competition. So if the coach is trying hard to keep Domi away from competition he can't handle, and he is:
Then the top six has to make up for that. It's Auston Matthews who has been asked to make up for that, and he's not doing it very well. Mitch Marner, while on that line, did it at a level so bad, it could not be allowed to continue.
And now that the Leafs are entering the part of the season where there are a lot more road games and a lot less opportunity to create skewed competition like you see above. Matthews' job is going to get harder, not easier. Improvement has to come from him, because as much as Nylander can add to offensive possession, he hasn't suddenly become great in the defensive zone.
The Leafs are on the cusp of the difficult part of the season, and they've gotten away with winning while playing some extremely poor hockey at times by playing brilliantly at others. They need to tilt the mix towards the brilliance a little more. The current trend is mildly encouraging on that front.
William Lagesson has been out with an illness, but he would draw in if he's feeling better. I can't see Keefe changing the fourth line after two strong games.
Matthew Knies - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Tyler Bertuzzi - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Nicholas Robertson - Max Domi - Calle Järnkrok
Noah Gregor - David Kämpf - Ryan Reaves
Morgan Rielly - T.J. Brodie
Simon Benoit - Jake McCabe
Maxime Lajoie - Conor Timmins
John Tavares is at 998 points, so we all want him to get two tonight.
Go Leafs Go!