Maple Leafs-Islanders Preview
The New York Islanders finally saw a glimpse of their best player in good form before the NHL's Christmas break, and they hope he reappears on the other side.
With John Tavares possibly back on track, the Islanders hope to build off the win they posted almost a week ago as the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Sunday night.
New York (19-11-5) stretched a 10-game point streak into mid-December but then lost three straight entering Monday's final game before the break. Tavares, though, logged his first multipoint game since Nov. 16 with a pair of primary assists 43 seconds apart in the first period to help the Islanders to a much-needed 5-2 win over Anaheim.
Tavares, who had only one point in his previous eight games, snapped a 12-game drought without an assist. The 2009 No. 1 overall pick tied for ninth in the NHL last season with 48 assists and had 10 through this season's first 19 games.
''I know I need to be a lot better,'' Tavares said. ''I've been feeling a lot better, more like my game.''
The Islanders' five goals were their most since the last day of November. They had totaled two goals during their three-game skid.
''You get some goals and it does wonders for you,'' Tavares said.
New York continued to struggle on the power play, however, with three empty chances - dropping to 1 for 19 in the last five games - but set a club record by not allowing an opponent to score on the man advantage for the 13th straight game.
The Islanders held the second-worst penalty kill in the league from Nov. 3-25 at 68.8 percent but is the only team with a perfect mark since. Toronto entered the break with the second-best power play in the league (26.4 percent) since the beginning of November and has scored on four of its last five chances.
The Maple Leafs (12-14-7) had a six-game point streak snapped with Tuesday's 3-2 loss at Arizona, the second game of a stretch in which they play seven of nine away from home.
The loss followed a 4-0-2 span during which Toronto scored 26 goals, including a season high in Monday's 7-4 win at Colorado, but the Leafs posted their lowest goal total in five games the next night despite outshooting the Coyotes 39-26.
''A couple of bad bounces in the first, but we stuck with it as a team,'' said Jonathan Bernier, who made 23 saves. ''A lot of good things out there.''
With James Reimer not quite ready to return from his groin injury that has kept him out most of December, Bernier will make his fourth straight start while trying to improve on a subpar campaign. The Maple Leafs' opening-day starter is 2-9-3 with a 3.21 goals-against average and .889 save percentage, both of which rank among the league's worst. His numbers are also bad against the Islanders with a 3.29 GAA and .907 save percentage in six career starts.
His counterpart will be Thomas Greiss, who will fill in after New York placed Jaroslav Halak on injured reserve earlier Sunday due to an upper-body injury. Greiss is 9-4-3 with a 2.03 GAA.
Halak's 32 saves helped the Islanders win 3-2 in the teams' last meeting in New York on Feb. 12. They also took the last one in Toronto 4-3 on March 9 for their fourth win in the last five matchups.