Improving Leafs Face Islanders
(AP) – With three wins in four games, the Toronto Maple Leafs are feeling more confident.
Looking for their first road victory in nearly a month, the Maple Leafs will try to snap a three-game losing streak against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum.
After losing six of seven before the All-Star break, Toronto (22-26-5) has played better since returning and is coming off a 5-4 win over Atlanta on Monday.
The Maple Leafs rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the first period and took the lead on Nikolai Kulemin’s goal early in the third period. Four players recorded two points in the win.
One player that didn’t contribute on the scoresheet was All-Star Phil Kessel, whose goalless streak was extended to 11 games despite coach Ron Wilson shaking up the lines.
However, after finishing with a plus-2 rating in nearly 18 minutes of ice time – just the ninth time all season he’s been a plus player – Kessel was satisfied.
“I had some chances, I was finally plus in a game,” said Kessel. “We got the win, right?”
While Toronto is playing better at home, it has lost five straight on the road while being outscored 26-7. In its last three home games – all wins – its given up seven goals.
Monday’s victory pulled the Maple Leafs within nine points of Carolina for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We look at the standings every day,” said center Tim Brent. “We don’t have room to be complacent.”
If Toronto is going to move up the standings it needs to take advantage of matchups like those against New York (17-28-7), which has the worst record in the Eastern Conference. However, the Maple Leafs have lost three straight to the Islanders, scoring one goal in each.
In the only meeting this season, Toronto lost 2-1 in overtime on Oct. 18.
Kessel has eight goals and three assists in his last nine games against the Islanders, including a goal in the overtime loss.
New York avoided a fifth straight home loss with a 5-3 victory over Ottawa on Saturday, rebounding from a shutout loss at Pittsburgh with three first-period goals. Rob Schremp scored his second goal of the game early in the third period to break a tie.
“I thought we competed extremely hard out there today,” said Matt Moulson, who tied John Tavares for the team lead with his 18th goal. “It was a battle for every inch out there and it showed in the end result.”
Rookie Kevin Poulin started in net after it was learned Rick DiPietro will miss four to six weeks with facial fractures and swelling in his knee after being dropped with one punch by Penguins goalie Brent Johnson in the final seconds of the previous game.
Poulin is 4-2-1 with a 2.44 goals-against average in 10 appearances – seven starts – this season. The 20-year-old also had an altercation with an opposing goalie when he was dropped to the ice by an elbow from Ottawa’s Robin Lehner at the end of the second period, but the penalty on Lehner resulted in a 5-on-3 power play for New York, setting up the go-ahead goal.
Tavares has gone nine games without a goal since scoring three against Buffalo on Jan. 15. He has four goals in five games against Toronto.
Updated February 8, 2011
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