Islanders Hope To Take Advantage Of Some Home Cooking Against The Leafs

For the New York Islanders, home hasn't been very sweet. One of the National Hockey League's "road warriors" with a record of six wins three losses and one overtime loss, the Isles are conversely one of the league's worst home teams. How bad? 2-8-0 bad. The worst home start in franchise history kind of bad.

The Maple Leafs come in with a record of 12-8-0 with a very impressive 8-4-0 road record, which will surely challenge the home team. The Leafs are lead by Isles' villain, defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf and his fellow leafs will be arriving on Long Island for the second game on consecutive nights fresh from a 5-2 home loss to the rival Montreal Canadiens. (Photo credit: flikr/clydeorama)

After a slow start to the season, Leafs star Phil Kessel has returned to his productive ways. He currently sits at four goals and 12 assists for 16 points. Ben Scrivens started against Montreal and is playing at a high level for the Leafs as the acting number one goaltender. It's possible James Reimer, coming off a knee injury, will be in net for the Leafs Thursday in Nassau, but more likely he returns to game action following the three game break after the Leafs' Long Island visit.

New York hopes to turn that around starting tonight against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Islanders, as always, are lead by budding superstar John Tavares. Tavares is tied for second in the league with 13 goals and fourth in points with 25. His longtime partner in crime, Matt Moulson, has also chipped in 10 goals and 23 points.

Outside of the top line however, the production drops off pretty fast. Speedy winger Michael Grabner is the only other Islanders player with more than four goals, putting seven biscuits in the basket.

Exceptionally disappointing so far this season is former 7th overall draft pick Kyle Okposo. The talented power forward has not displayed any of his impressive skills for any real stretch all season. He started the season on the first line and has been demoted first to the second line and more recently to the third line. Expect him in tonight's lineup, but if his performance does not improve, coach Jack Capuano will have no choice but to sit the winger. (Photo credit: flikr/clydeorama)

The Isles defense, a problem at home all season, will still be without tough guy Matt Carkner. The Islanders announced Wednesday that he is suffering from a groin injury and his return is not imminent. Expect the same defense used in Tuesday's loss to Boston to be dressed tonight, which means Radek Martinek will get another chance to get his legs under him.

In net, the Islanders will most likely stick with veteran workhorse Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov has played in 16 of New York's 20 games and his numbers are borderline acceptable. He has a 2. 92 goals against average and a 0.904 save percentage. Backing up the veteran will be youngster Kevin Poulin. The highly touted prospect was brought up late last week as a replacement for Rick DiPietro and played against Carolina over the weekend, losing 4-2.

For the Isles, this game is more important than many mid season games. They currently sit four points out of a playoff spot, but have four teams to jump in order to get that coveted playoff appearance.

They are in the midst of a seven game home stand, but lost the first two games of it. Ideally, a team wants a winning home record, which means New York should look to garner eight points on that home stand. After those first two losses however, the Isles will need to go at least 3-0-2 to get eight points on this home stand.

 If they get six or so points in this home stand, it won't be the end of the rope for the team, but with each loss, the rope gets shorter and shorter.

Tonight, the Isles will be facing a Toronto team that has been good, especially on the road. Expect the Leafs to really be pumped up after losing to the Canadiens Wednesday. For the Islanders, the important factor will be to stay focused, especially in their own zone. If they can limit Toronto's scoring chances, and get some scoring from somewhere other than the first line, the Islanders might return to the victory circle. If not, expect more of the same from Tuesday and Sunday.

-Donovan Brooks

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