Islanders Turning Over a New Leaf, Aiming To Keep Playoff Push Alive In Toronto

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Islanders Turning Over a New Leaf, Aiming To Keep Playoff Push Alive In Toronto
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Having won six of their last seven games, the New York Islanders are taking the high road, from both the metaphorical and geographical perspectives of the phrase.

The Isles will try and keep their improbable playoff push alive, heading north of the border to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre tonight.

New York is just 11 points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and there are still 22 games left on the schedule.

If you had your money on this team playing meaningful games at this point of the season, you might want to consider a future in sports betting and move out to Las Vegas.

The Islanders are coming off yet another inspirational performance, having beaten the Florida Panthers 5-1 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum yesterday. 

Better yet, they did so in front of 14,000 fans, which can only be a good thing for a team that has experienced an attendance shortage for quite some time.

In the midst of this current hot streak, the team has looked better each game, seemingly fielding an improved roster than the one that played the previous matchup.

Their passing has been better, the power play has vastly improved and the Isles have been playing responsibly at both ends of the ice.

John Tavares OT Goal (NYI@TOR, 10/18/10)

Even John Tavares, who has been criticized for his lack of defensive ability, has proven the doubters wrong. He has been working on his two-way game all season long, and it's showing.

Josh Bailey has also been showing significant improvement over his play during the first half of the season. He has been scoring goals these last few games, and is finally playing with more confidence when he has the puck, which is what the coaches and fans of this team have been waiting for.

Another welcome upgrade on the Island has been the team's ability to find the back of the net. New York has scored three or more goals in nine straight games now, something they haven't done since 1993, which was the last time they ever won a playoff series.

They have three 23-plus goal scorers, the only team in the league with that luxury.

Matt Moulson has been the hottest scorer on the team these days, having scored five goals in his last two games. He is one of three forwards who make up the Isles' most consistent line, along with Tavares and P.A. Parenteau.

The Isles are firing on all cylinders, and at just the right time.

As pointed out by Brian Compton of NHL.com, they have scored more goals than the Washington Capitals 60 games into the season, and if you thought the Isles would have done that too, again, get on the next flight to Vegas and never return.

Lou Capozzola/Getty Images

Al Montoya will make his third start in as many days for New York, and he has been sharp in his last two, stopping 55-of-56 shots faced in that span.

Tonight, the Islanders will face off against a Toronto team that has undergone a bit of a makeover these last few weeks.

Since the last time these two teams played on February 8th at the Coliseum (Toronto won 5-3), the Leafs have shipped away two defensemen (Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin) and a forward (Kris Versteeg), and have added some scoring depth in forward Joffrey Lupul. It is expected that Brian Burke will try and make a trade for a defenseman prior to game time, so there may be another new Leaf to add to this list later today.

Despite the garage sale on Bay Street, the Maple Leafs have been on a playoff run of their own, and find themselves situated seven points back of eighth-seed Carolina.

They have scoring talent as well, boasting the likes of Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhai Grabovski, who have all been pleasant surprises for Toronto. They also have the underachieving Phil Kessel, who has bitten the Islanders in the past and will try to do so tonight.

Toronto's goalie tandem of rookie James Reimer and veteran J.S. Giguere has been consistently strong, so the Isles will have their work cut out for them.

Who will win tonight?

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They are however coming off a heartbreaking loss, falling to their lowly provincial rivals, the Ottawa Senators 1-0 in a shootout. They simply could not find an answer for Sens goaltender Craig Anderson, who made 47 saves en route to his first win as a Senator.

This game represents a much-needed two points for the Isles and Leafs, and we should see an intense showing by both teams. This matchup has a certain "playoff" feel about it, and there is plenty of history between the two sides, which can only add fuel to the fire.

 

X-Factor

If the Isles are fortunate enough to win this game, there will be a couple of reasons why.

First, as any good parent will tell his children after purchasing an item of great value, "don't touch anything!" The Islanders need to emulate the type of game they've shown in the last few games, particularly their play against the L.A. Kings and Florida Panthers from this past weekend.

They need to pass with the tape-to-tape precision we've seen from them, and they need to pile up the shots-on-goal.

Second, you know Toronto is going to come out hitting hard and playing a very physical game. Now that Matt Martin is back in the lineup, New York has some much-needed help in that department, but they need to keep it up.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Islanders need to play a strong two-way game, and show both aggressiveness and finesse.

 

Players to Watch

1) John Tavares

JT has 15 points in February alone (five goals, 10 assists), and he will be playing in his hometown, likely in front of family and friends tonight. Look for him to have a big game.

2) Matt Martin

Martin won't necessarily chip in on the scoresheet, but he will be a big factor tonight. He's going to be physical and will be there to stand up for his teammates, should any Leafs decide to endanger any of the Isles' stars.

3) Blake Comeau

Comeau didn't have his best game on Sunday, but he did play solidly in his own zone. That being said, he's an effective forward for the Islanders when he's on his game, and since returning from his injury, he's been contributing. I think he'll go back to doing just that in tonight's game.

I'll provide a recap following tonight's game.

 

Comments are welcome

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