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Islanders vs. Maple Leafs, Take II: Incentives

The great thing about home-and-homes, and why older fans miss them so, is they carry such easy, built-in psychological incentives. They're mini-series within the slog of a long regular season where 29 mostly inoffensive teams dot the schedule at random.

Familiarity manufactures contempt, and there's no kind of manufactured contempt like the thought of being swept by an opponent in the span of 30 hours. The enticing chance to own an opponent -- the Leafs are 2-0 in the season series -- meets the fear of heading to the All-Star break with the taste of being swept by the Leafs of all teams.

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Islanders (19-22-6, 14th/E) vs Maple Leafs (24-19-5, 9th/E)
7 p.m. | MSG+2 (twice the plus!) | Audio: NHL - WRHU
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum
Preventing Parenteau's Progress: Pension Plan Puppets

For the Islanders, a team that has beaten the Red Wings again and finally kicked the Flyers monkey during its recent run of feel-good results, that kind of step back isn't acceptable. Much like last night's performance.

John Tavares' 12-game point streak was stopped last night, which predictably meant a team that relies too heavily on its top line -- both for production and for minutes -- was shut out for the eighth time this season.

Quickly, last night's loss dropped the Islanders back to 14th in the East and kept them nine points back of the eighth seed -- and ninth seed, which Toronto continues to occupy on the tie-breaker with 8th-place Washington.

They wanted to go into the break feeling like they'd climbed back into a position of meaningful games? Then this is a meaningful game they have to have. Can't come out, as they described in Newsday, "flat."

Last night's otherwise dreary game was interesting on a couple of levels: One, even though they were down 1-0 for most of the game on a fluke goal, it could've easily been worse. Two, while most teams are wary of the Islanders' speed (if they're wary of anything), the Maple Leafs are not one of those teams.

In fact, I think the Leafs' own speed poses problems for the Islanders: While other teams are clearly more talented than the Isles, those teams also try to slow the game down and possess them to death; the Islanders try to catch better teams out of their comfort zone and, if they grab a lead with that approach, hold on. That hasn't worked in two tries against the Leafs.

Capuano touched on their approach in that Newsday piece:

"I just thought they played better than us," Jack Capuano said. "They used their speed to chip pucks and get behind our 'D.' We ran into a good team tonight."

It's not groundbreaking insight nor much beyond good old hockey cliches, really, but it's a thought. The Leafs coaching staff has discussed, and lamented, how they score off transitions more than off sustained zone time and pressure.

More Capuano comments [MSG video] here.

From the Isles official site preview:

Capuano suggested last night there could be lineup changes. If he does change lines, they will be posted here after morning media availablity.

One imagines there will be a change in goal with Al Montoya dressing again lately, but we'll see. A lot of psychology is riding on this game.

Additional Reading

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight's game here. Anyone choosing shutout?