The New York Islanders are in Toronto tonight to take in some home hospitality (for some), the media circus, and hopefully walk away with good health and two points before tomorrow night's big first-in-the-Metro contest with the Rangers.
The Leafs will be without one of their better players, Nazem Kadri, who is scratched as punishment for showing up late for practice yesterday.
The Islanders remain without a couple of their best players in Kyle Okposo and Mikhail Grabovski, but this season's accumulation of depth makes losses like that quite surmountable, which is why they've been so consistent all season long, even with Okposo and Grabovski's lengthy absences.
The Islanders will feature both trade deadline acquisitions today: Tyler Kennedy gets his injury-delayed debut, in place of Colin McDonald, and Michal Neuvirth starts for the second consecutive game.
For Neuvirth, it represents a chance to get in sync with his team and the idea of not facing 40 shots a night. He gave up three goals on just 18 shots in the 4-3 shootout loss in Florida, though each was a high-quality scoring chance as the Panthers took one-goal lead after one-goal lead. He's looking forward to this one:
I’m looking forward having a better game than the last game and it’s definitely nice to get another chance to prove myself and earn the respect of my teammates.
As for Kennedy, his presence bumps Cal Clutterbuck back down to McDonald's recent spot on the fourth line. Kennedy will line up opposite Nikolay Kulemin on Brock Nelson's line. [UPDATE: The official site lists Kulemin there, but Arthur Staple cites Jack Capuano saying Michael Grabner would be opposite Kennedy.]
The Isles are in that always-risky mode of hoping to see from a player what he did for two games that one time two years ago...
Cappy wants to see "energy" from Kennedy. Mentioned the impact he made after being out the first 2 games of the '13 playoffs vs them #Isles— Dan Savarino (@DanSavarino) March 9, 2015
...but really, we know the deal. If he stays healthy, he could be useful albeit curious depth down for the bottom six the stretch and in the playoffs.
As for the Leafs? Well, they returned from a road trip "out of contention with almost a quarter of the season remaining, finding motivation is the biggest question." They promptly lost 6-1 to the Blues. Then Kadri slept late. They are shutting down defensemen left and right, with Roman Polak (hernia) today joining Stephan Robidas (shoulder) on the surgery list.
So that's the whole deal with them, basically.
Jonathan Bernier is their starter in goal tonight.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight right this way. Don't pick McDonald.