There's a reason we ran our "NHL Tough Guys Repel Alien Invasion" satire today, and it's not just because Maple Leafs Colton Orr and Randy Carlyle have character roles in the script.
With David Ullstrom being at least partially culpable on a goal against the other night against Boston, we had a feeling this season's designated pressbox goat would be scratched again, which by process of elimination means another apparition for Eric Boulton, who has averaged 4:04 TOI in his six games this year.
Boulton's likely ritual dance partner, Orr, played 14:55 last night in the Leafs' 5-2 loss to Montreal, though he managed to avoid the penalty box entirely. That boosted his 18-game average this season to 6:57.
Cue head coach Jack Capuano's confirmation of the lineup move:
"We're looking for a spark. We need the energy that someone like Boulton brings to the lineup."
Lather, rinse, repeat.
I actually don't intend to resurrect the well-beaten dead horse about the ambiguous role of enforcers in today's game -- it's tired, we've all heard all the pros and cons -- nor Brian Burke saying last year that "rats" were eliminating players like Orr. But it is amusing to watch what is essentially an exchange of pawns when teams dress Toughness & Grit to fight each other and take both off the ice for even longer than normal.
And will it do a thing to deter Dion Phaneuf from taking runs at players, and fighting no one?
Anyway, on to the rest of it: Joe Finley is back in the lineup for Radek Martinek, in what is starting to look like a 6/7 rotation based on whether the opponent is more about speed or more about physicality.
For lines, Boulton's entrance also appears to create the following: Matt Martin and Marty Reasoner with Boulton, while Cizikas centers Grabner and McDonald. I'm sure things will shift as warranted since Boulton won't play all that much.
The Leafs visit on the back end of a back-to-back, and while last night's 5-2 final score fairly reflects the outcome, it still hides the fact the game was still tied at 2-2 halfway into the third period. A controversial faceoff drop led to the go-ahead goal, but it was one of those unjust occasions where objective Leafs fans can say, "We still kinda deserved to lose."
(I'm reminded of the awful penalty call on Brian Strait against New Jersey, which paved the way for the Devils' winning goal but had nothing to do with the Islanders wasting so many early powerplays that could have given them an insurmountable lead in that game.)
If the frequent freezing of Ullstrom upsets some fans, Capuano's praise for Casey Cizikas should at least affirm:
"You know what you get out of someone like him. He pays attention to details and shows up to work every day."
True, and also conspiratorially we juxtapose it against Ullström's frequent scratches to wonder if that's what the coaches do not quite see from the Swede.
Evgeni Nabokov draws the start for the Isles. At mid-day, Globe and Mail beatwriter James Mirtle was betting on James Reimer getting the start at the other end, but with the tight travel the Leafs didn't have a real morning skate this a.m.
As has been oft-noted already, this is the third game of a seven-game homestand that could very well define their season, especially if they intend to concede more than the two they've already put into the loss column. Last meeting, the Isles fell behind early only to comeback and storm the Leafs, 7-4, including Michael Grabner's highly entertaining empty net goal.
Sure, every game is still a toss-up in this league -- that's why we watch even when our gut knows better -- but given the context and the traveling opponent the Islanders have to take points here. No matter how their "spark" is generated*.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks in this thread.