GDT: Two Teams, One Direction


Tonight’s matchup between the Leafs and the New York Islanders will be viewed by outsiders as a tilt between two of the bottom-feeders of the Eastern Conference, devoid of much interest or playoff relevance.  Yet for the fans of both these teams, this game and those of the recent past have been of definite significance for the futures of these franchises.  The Islanders have been on an offensive surge, surprising opponents with their speed and tenacity in an attempt to somewhat salvage an otherwise dismal season.  This has given the New York faithful reason to eb confident in the offense of their young core going forward, lead by the likes of John Tavares and Michael Grabner.  While the defense and goaltending are still a work in progress, hope and potential lies in the likes of Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, and recently acquired Al Montoya.  Montoya, who has yet to lose in his career with the Islanders, will be in net against a Toronto team that is heading in a similar direction (up!) from both the long and short-term perspective.

The Matchup Stats

The recent success by the Islanders has been of great help to playoff aspirations in this city, as they have handily defeated a number of Toronto’s competitors for those final two playoff positions.  This has been spearheaded by an absolutely prolific scoring run by Calder-candidate Michael Grabner.  The Vancouver/Florida castoff has been allowed to spin his wheels on Long Island, and has just recently left a stretch of hot play that saw him score ten times in just six games.  The 23-year old Austrian uses said wheels to blow past defenders, and is especially dangerous when shorthanded for this reason.  Teams that face New York have also had to deal with the duo of John Tavares and Matt Moulson.  Tavares is emerging as a world-class talent and is nicely complemented by the speedy Moulson, who wrapped up a hat trick last night against the Panthers with an empty net marker.

James Reimer, who is 2-0-1 in his last three starts with a sizzling 0.944 SV%, will be looking for his second career win over the Islanders.  His job should be made a bit easier by the Leafs reinsertion of Mike Brown and Colby Armstrong into the lineup, with Crabb sitting and Hanson returning to the Marlies in turn.  Brown and Armstrong, a newly minted assistant captain, will increase the grit, board presence, and overall energy of the team.  The two wingers lead by example at both ends of the ice, being just as eager to hit as they are to lay down and block a shot.  This enthusiasm appears to be contagious on a young Toronto team that feeds off of these emotions.  The intensity and attentiveness of these players respond to gutsy performances by their own.  Some of the few players that seemed emotionally aloof, such as Kaberle and Verseteeg, have been (coincidentally, or not?) shipped out in the past weeks.  This bodes well for a franchise that can use any sort of positive momentum to barrel forward along their chosen path.

Strategical Keys

It would be all too easy to be lulled into a false sense of confidence against the Islanders as they enter the Air Canada Centre on the second half of a back-to-back.  The Leafs should anticipate an up-tempo game and look to aggressively contain the speed of their opponents, who have been extremely dangerous offensively in recent weeks.  This Toronto squad should be confident in their ability to score goals against a team that sits 27th in goals against per game, especially with Phil Kessel’s switch in the “on” position.  However, if I were a MSM spin doctor, I would take this opportunity to ominously warn you that the Leafs were just shutout by the Senators, intimating that we could be in for more frustration tonight.  Thankfully, us “independent thinkers” would probably assess the roadblock thrown down by Craig Anderson as a game that Toronto dominated offensively.  One would think that similar effort and perseverance will yield results on this Tuesday night.

Gameday Quotes

From Luke Schenn, who many think will be in line for the next “A”:

“The biggest thing is guys in this room are looking to be the answers themselves.  They are not waiting for more turnover and to bring more people in to get this thing going here as an organization and start winning.  I think all guys in this room want to be the guy. You’re going to get some outside help, as I am sure this is not going to be the team set in stone, but these guys want to be the ones to turn this around.”