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New York Islanders vs. Toronto Maple Leafs Preview: Life without Tavares

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Oh, did we mention this league also holds games? It does.

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Dion Phaneuf prepares for a clean... oh haha couldn't finish that sentence.
Dion Phaneuf prepares for a clean... oh haha couldn't finish that sentence.
Bruce Bennett

Apart from the NHL's spring silly season and the wait for trade news that probably won't break until next week, there are actual games to play.

The New York Islanders get their first crack at life without John Tavares and Frans Nielsen tonight, playing host to the Randy Carlyle rope-a-dope experience known as the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In their place is a trio of callups (Matt Martin is also out injured) who made up Bridgeport's top line last weekend and through much of its season: Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Mike Halmo.

Leafs (32-22-6, 4th/New Atlantic) @ Islanders (22-30-8, 8th/Metro)
Nassau [
gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Memorial Coliseum
7 p.m. EST | MSG+ |
WRHU
Pundit-mocking Muppets: Pension Plan Puppets

Expected Lines

Most eyes will be on how the Isles use Strome in his second stint with the club. To start off, they're keeping him with Lee and next to former Bridgeport captain Colin McDonald.

Halmo takes Martin's place on the fourth line:

Vanek-Nelson-Okposo
Grabner-Bailey-Clutterbuck
Lee-Strome-McDonald
Boulton-Cizikas-Halmo

Halmo: "Down there I’ve felt more pressure to produce, but here I don’t feel that pressure," Halmo said. "I am going to play simple, finish checks and work hard."

Expected Power Play Units

PP1

Vanek-Nelson-Okposo
Visnovky-MacDonald

PP2

Lee-Strome-Bailey
de Haan-Hamonic

With Nielsen out, the official site notes that MacDonald "takes the reigns as the Islanders ironman, as he is set to play his 162nd consecutive game." That doesn't look like it's gonna last.

Leafs Notes

Toronto has its own trade deadline circus to contend with -- as opposed to the everyday circus -- mostly focused on Dave Bolland, who is a valued pending UFA but is reportedly asking for the moon. Worse, he's still not quite ready to return from a foot injury that's had him sidelined most of the season. So they basically have 15 games of Bolland-as-Leaf data to think about.

Randy Carlyle took the break as a chance to re-examine and re-coach his team's defense:

"The issue for us has been when we’re loose with the puck through the neutral ice and in the offensive zone, we spend a lot more time in our zone."

So tonight, it's one team missing its top two centers while evaluating the next wave, versus another team hoping to firm up the alarming foundation that makes critics think it won't go far this season.

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks over here.