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New York Islanders vs. Toronto Maple Leafs Preview: Hobbling clubs meet, scratch Michael Grabner to keep it fair

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When the New York Islanders meet the Maple Leafs in Toronto tonight, each team will be looking to shake funks where they've won just two of their last six, and each team will have built-in excuses if it doesn't work.

The Isles are without injured top defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, top winger Thomas Vanek, "top" goalie Evgeni Nabokov, as well as, for some reason, top penalty killer and apparent healthy scratch Michael Grabner.

The Leafs are without several centers: Nazem Kadri is suspended for goalie-crashing, "top" center Tyler Bozak is hurt, and so is David Bolland. (Phil Kessel also missed Monday's skate with the flu.) In response to the center crisis, the Leafs have acquired Peter Holland from the Ducks and are looking like they'll deploy him on their dangerous first line. Former Islander Trevor Smith is also getting some NHL time at center.

Also: Young Morgan Rielly [sic] is getting another look at age 19.

Nyi-stickstripeslim_medium Tor-slim_medium
Islanders (8-10-3) @ Maple Leafs (12-7-1)
7 p.m. EST | MSG+ | WRHU/WRCN
[Air or business, surely] Centre
Voice of the puppetariat: Pension Plan Puppets

The Islanders are finally on the positive end of the shots for/shots against ledger for the season. The Leafs are being outshot by a ghastly nine shots per game yet still winning. This is the topic du jour among the "what makes winning?" conversation going on among underlying numbers analysts and old school Carlyles.

Part of that is from high schooting percentages by the Leafs, who do have some good snipers. The Islanders will throw Kevin Poulin at them tonight, which ... well he's had his trouble stopping AHL shooters, but hopefully he can continue a mini-rally at the NHL level tonight.

Scratch Grabner to Keep it Fair

I don't normally go on mid-day rants about the day's lineup moves, I'm very vigilant about injury concerns -- a player can be nursing something while playing through it, to everyone's detriment -- and I even don't mind the occasional scratch to mess with a player's psychology and motivate him to reach another level during the season's long slog.

All that said, I can't fathom why Eric Boulton is playing tonight and Michael Grabner isn't. (Boulton's presence is no doubt in part a response to the Leafs dressing tough guys who are slightly less ridiculous than John Scott.)

Grabner was pointless again in Saturday's shootout win over the Red Wings, but he had an outstanding game and his activity -- and four shots on goal -- was one of many components to the Islanders playing "the way we need to play," as Jack Capuano likes to say.

Fellow struggler Josh Bailey picked up an early assist on a John Tavares deflection goal -- with Grabner also helping create the chance -- but has otherwise been absent for long stretches. If injuries aren't a factor, of the two I would not be scratching my most effective penalty killer and the guy who is creating more scoring chances.

But maybe Grabner's nursing an injury; after all his wheels depend on fully functioning Ferarri parts.

Oh, or not.

You know, the funny thing is Grabner is in a "bounces" slump of sorts and he's bound to regress -- i.e. return to his normal scoring rate. Surely he'll do so sometime after this scratch, and then this scratch (or more scratches?) will be pointed to as the motivational tool that got his game back.

And this isn't to say observers around here haven't noticed Grabner's slump being in part of his own doing. We have. But last game was hardly an example of it. Generating scoring chances is a good way to win hockey games over the long haul, and Grabner did that last game.

But whatever. The Isles will probably win while giving up zero power play goals or something. Josh Bailey will score twice after Tavares takes a long shift and sets him up. Right? I mean, I'd take that and not complain, right?

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks over here. But don't choose Grabner! Because he hasn't scored in forever, I mean. That's the ticket.

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