New York Islanders @ Toronto Maple Leafs - Game preview
The New York Islanders open a home-and-home on the road in Toronto and look to extend three-game win streak
Monday, 01.23.2012 / 12:00 AM ET / News
By David Hochman
|Team Record: 19-21-6
Last Game: 2-1 OT W v CAR
Season Series: 0-1-0 of 4
|Team Record: 23-19-5
Last Game: 3-1 L v MTL
Season Series: 1-0-0 of 4
John Tavares is arguably the hottest player in the National Hockey League right now. At the midway point of the regular season, his current 12-game point streak is the longest of the year in the NHL. It’s no coincidence that during Tavares’ career-high point streak the Islanders have an 8-4 record, their best 12-game stretch all year.
Whether he’s been setting up vital goals for his linemates or finishing them, he’s consistently playing a strong game on both sides of the puck, with and without it. Before making his first career All-Star appearance this weekend in Ottawa, Tavares leads the Isles into Toronto’s Air Canada Center for the first game of a home-and-home with the Maple Leafs. Tavares often saves some of his best work for the team he grew up with, averaging a point-per-game in his young career when visiting Toronto.
After the early-season scoring explosion of teammate Phil Kessel, Lupul has slowly slid under the radar with the best season of his career so far. With 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) in 46 games, Lupul is a multi-point game away from the top two spots in the Art Ross race.
Lupul and Kessel have combined to become the top-scoring pair of forwards in the NHL over the first half of the season. Playing in Toronto and putting up those kinds of points could only keep an all-world talent under the radar for so long. Lupul has been named to the All-Star Game for the first time in his eight-year career, and last week was appointed one of the Assistant Captains for the game.
Streaking – The Islanders have won three straight games and four of their last five to move within nine points of the eighth-place Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference.
The Isles are seeking their first four-game winning streak of 2011-12 as they travel to Toronto for the first time this season. In their only other matchup this year, the Leafs topped the Isles 5-3 at the Coliseum in the last game before the holiday break. Now, a pair of games against Toronto stands between the Isles and the All-Star break.
Dirty Dozen – John Tavares scored both goals in the Islanders third consecutive victory Saturday night, tying the Carolina Hurricanes before beating them in overtime at Nassau Coliseum. His 12-game point-scoring streak includes eight goals and 13 assists, with seven multi-point games along the way.
Nabokov Staying Solid, Breaking Streaks – With 32 saves, Evgeni Nabokov became the first Islanders goaltender of the season to win four straight starts. He also became the first Isles netminder this year to win a game in overtime, and the first to win while wearing the team’s new, black third jerseys.
Perfect Penalty Kill – A 3-3 night on the penalty kill led by a relentless forecheck from Matt Martin helped push the game against Carolina into overtime. The Isles have killed 32 of their last 33 penalties for a remarkable 97 percent kill rate in 13 games.
Season Series: This is the second of four meetings between the teams. Toronto took the first matchup, a 5-3 decision at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 23. The clubs will meet again Tuesday night in New York.
Big Story: Some might think the Islanders are no longer in the playoff race. But this club enters Monday's action winners of three straight and just nine points behind the eighth-place Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference. The Isles are just two points off the pace they were on at this stage in 2007 -- the last time they qualified for the postseason.
"Every game we play now is absolutely huge for us, especially against these teams," said Isles center John Tavares, who has a League-best 12-game point streak. "[These are] conference teams that we are battling in position with. We are still fighting hard and we still believe in here. We are really coming together."
The Islanders spotted the Leafs an early 3-0 lead en route to a 5-3 loss in the teams first meeting on Dec. 23, 2011. Clarke MacArthur, Nazim Kadri and Carl Gunnarsson scored in the first 11 minutes, but the Islanders made a game of it. Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen brought the Islanders to within one, but Joey Crabb’s shorthanded goal held up to be the game-winner. John Tavares scored to make it 4-3 late in the third, but that is as close as the Islanders would come.
IslandersPower Play %: 19.46%
Penalty Kill %: 84.51%
Home Record: 11-11-3
Road Record: 8-10-3
Goals For: 109
Goals Against: 136
Maple LeafsPower Play %: 20.12%
Penalty Kill %: 75%
Home Record: 13-8-4
Road Record: 10-11-1
Goals For: 141
Goals Against: 144
John Tavares on the battle of every game: "Every game we play now is absolutely huge for us, especially against these teams. [These are] conference teams that we are battling in position with. We are still fighting hard and we still believe in here, we are really coming together."