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Islanders Gameday in Toronto: Let's really try to win this one, boys

The Maple Leafs penalty kill, at a jaw-dropping 72.1%, remains the worst in the league by a country mile. In the last three games -- two of them convincing wins -- they've killed just 6 of 11.

The struggling Islanders powerplay potted two last night (thank you, John Tavares), but don't let that fool you: One was a 5-on-3, they also gave up a shorthanded goal -- caused by Mark Streit's ill-advised shot, which was preceded by a typical panic pass -- and they could have given up several more.

Stripes-square_medium             Stpats_medium
New York Islanders (11-12-7, 12th/East) at Toronto Maple Leafs (9-13-7, 14th)
7 p.m. EST  |  [
something about air] Centre  |  MSG+2 (twice the plus!), radio
Rabble-Rousing Foes: Pension Plan Puppets

This isn't the only problem with that unit, but the powerplay point chemistry between Streit and Kyle Okposo just hasn't been there. I keep saying this, but they miss Doug Weight's poise. Okposo is a galloping young thing whose game at this age is suited for relentlessly winning puck battles. Weight is a more circumspect, patient veteran who can no longer rely on speed and so must turn to guile. Hopefully Brian Burke and Ron Wilson don't judge Okposo's Olympic candidacy on that out-of-position side of his game.

For the rest of the unit, at least we know Matt Moulson knows how to create traffic, and when they get the puck down low to JT, he doesn't miss.

Injuries aside, that's the most pressing concern. The Leafs, 6-2-2 in their last 10, continue to handily outshoot opponents 34 - 30.4 per game. And the Isles, 4-6-0 (has it really been 10 games since an OTL?!), continue to get outshot 33.2 - 29.5. So tonight could be a lovely shooting gallery, and even that would be a vast improvement over both last night and the last Isles-Leafs meeting, when Dwayne Roloson took 61 for the team and somehow salvaged an OT win.

But about those injuries. For some reason whenever Sean Bergenheim plays the Leafs, the offensive side of his game -- the one we used to dream about -- comes alive. PIty then that he's out of the lineup with a rib injury. Also out is Tim Jackman, the de facto enforcer. So if that whole overblown "truculence" thing ("Truculence: The Secret Ingredient to One* Cup Since 1975") comes up, the Isles will need a committee to step up and play the NHL's ritual testosterone dance. But I'm expecting more of a throw our guns at their guns affair, which should make for some entertaining hockey, fast-paced hockey. I could do without Phil Kessel and Lee Stempniak getting 20 shots between them this time. And more of the "just throw it at Vesa" approach.

*not even all that essential to that 2007 Cup either, come to think of it. But do not blaspheme our great game's mythology.

That all of course depends on who enters the lineup, too. At the moment, I assume Blake Comeau and Rob Schremp Hockey are in. But you never know whether they might pick up the Rechlicz Phone and bring "The Wrecker" up for his three minutes. He hasn't seen a lot of time in Bridgeport though, so I'd hate to see them do that when Comeau and Schremp are due.

Please Show Up for this Kind of a Big Deal Game

After handing the Flyers a free pass back to the playoff bubble, it would be nice if the Isles didn't hand the Leafs a free advance back to respectability tonight. As mentioned last night, a regulation loss to the Leafs puts them two points back of the Islanders and five points behind 8th-seeded Montreal with a game in hand. Not too shabby, considering the hole they dug in the opening weeks.

In the "Explaining Random Chance through Psychology" department, the Islanders at the end of this long road string could be looking forward to home cooking for the next month. And the Leafs could be looking past the Isles to a revenge match in Boston tomorrow night, the scene of last weekend's drubbing at the hands of the holders of their 2010 and 2011 first-round picks. That's worth mulling over if one team fails to show up tonight, but I've learned that this team consistently surprises me. One game never tells me much about the next game. It feels like the "any given Sunday" mystique that the All About Televised Football and Concussions League professes to offer.

So if the Islanders lay another egg, I won't be thinking about their mental state so much as where they're headed. In their last five games, they've had three ugly losses (New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia) and two very sound wins (Pittsburgh, Atlanta). Play the organized, aggressive way they can, and they look good. Don't play that way, they look awful. I guess the answer is as it has been: Their margin of error is thin, their depth is paltry, so they need all cylinders firing to get points (well, except when there is a Roloson Miracle). Sounds kind of like the Leafs actually, save for the miraculous goalie part.

Tonight's Game Thread: Visitors from Leafs Nation?

There's talk over at Pension Plan Puppets of a 2nd-period "field trip" over here to our thread at Lighthouse Hockey. If you've never seen their PPP game threads, they're a lively ribald bunch of Leaf fanatics. One of the things that drew me to SBN's platform is the ability for rival teams' fans to interact without descending into anonymous message board flame wars. So obviously if their tour bus stops off here, I'd expect you to welcome them and banter like fellow hockey fans without taking any jabs too seriously. Bring the funny, the drink and the spirit. Or just take it all in and marvel at their numbers.

That's The Virtual Party, What about the Real One?

For locals, don't forget the Point Blank viewing party at SOCIAL, across from the Coliseum. If you know about it, you know by now you should RSVP at that link if you plan on going. Free buffet, $1 Bud/Bud Lights {holds nose} between 7-8 p.m., and complimentary shots after each Islanders goal. That sounds like a party I could dig -- and it sounds like a great reason for the Islanders to score a lot of goals.