Maple Leafs look to stay hot against scuffling Isles

NHL Hockey
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The New York Islanders hope to find more success on the road than they have lately at home when they play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

On Thursday, the Islanders lost their fourth straight home game, 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils. All the losses have come against teams currently out of playoff contention.

“We got away from our game of making it really hard on them, which I thought we were doing a really good job of for the first 30 minutes,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We had some chances early and didn’t get them and they hung around and we didn’t really take it to the next level. That’s on us.”

The Islanders, 3-4-1 since Dec. 17, will be without defenseman Adam Pelech, who was declared out for the rest of the season on Friday morning with an Achilles tendon injury.

They will face a Maple Leafs team that is on an 8-0-1 roll after defeating the host Winnipeg Jets 6-3 on Thursday. Toronto is 14-4-1 since Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as coach.

William Nylander had two goals and an assist Thursday, and has goals in five consecutive games. He has six goals and five assists during that span.

“I think he’s just doing a good job in all three zones and then making really good plays with the puck,” said Maple Leafs captain John Tavares. “I think he’s very underrated with how strong he is on the puck. He does a really good job on the boards and down low in the offensive zone, creating space and finding his linemates and the open man.”

What was termed a “freak injury” to Pelech came during pregame warmups but not on the ice Thursday. Sebastian Aho, a 23-year-old with 22 games of NHL experience, was recalled from the Islanders’ American Hockey League affiliate in Bridgeport.

Pelech had been playing with Ryan Pulock to form what could be considered the team’s top defensive pair.

Pelech, 25, had a goal and eight assists in 38 games this season. Aho has two goals and 18 assists in 34 games for Bridgeport.

The Islanders opened the season 16-3-1 with a 10-game winning streak and a 15-game points streak, but are 9-8-2 since Nov. 21.

“When you have a streak like that, teams around the league are going to take notice and wait for you,” Islanders center Derick Brassard said. “We ran into a lot of that. And now we’re facing adversity for maybe the first time this season. It happens to every team. The key is to respond. I’m confident that we will.”

Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen made 45 saves on Thursday.

“At the start of the third, Freddie made some big saves,” Tavares said. “We probably gave up a little bit too much that we would have liked in the first few minutes. Everyone stuck with it and then cleaned it up and controlled the play a lot in their half of the ice, which, especially with the lead, you want to do. But, no question, he’s been our backbone here.”

Semyon Varlamov has started three consecutive games in goal for the Islanders and has played in four in a row. He has played in 25 games and Thomas Greiss had been used in 19 games.

–Field Level Media

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