|John Tavares and the Islanders return to the ACC tonight to face the Leafs after getting thumped by the Flyers last night. (The Associated Press)
John Tavares didn't record a point in his first National Hockey League visit to the Air Canada Centre.
But the New York Islanders rookie and favourite to win the Calder Trophy will be thinking of a different kind of urgency tonight at the ACC when the Maple Leafs play host to the Islanders.
Just over two weeks ago, the Islanders were lucky to depart the ACC with a 4-3 overtime victory, a result made possible only because goalie Dwayne Roloson made an astounding 58 saves.
“I think we all want to have a better night,” Tavares said this morning. “We don’t want to have to count on our goaltender to make (almost) 60 saves again. We want to be able to create some offence on them, but we know they are playing well. Hopefully we can help out Roli and keep the shots down.”
The 40-year-old Roloson is scheduled to start after his backup, Martin Biron, went the distance in a 6-2 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia last night.
The Leafs will counter with Vesa Toskala, who was sharp in a 5-2 victory against the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday evening. Toronto has won five of its seven games since the Isles stole a point from them on Nov. 23, and its players were trying not to let the idea of facing Roloson again creep too far into their heads.
“I haven’t seen a display of goaltending like that in a long time,” Leafs centre Wayne Primeau said. “He was amazing. We have to get more traffic in front of him. And tonight is a new game.”
Though one of the Leafs’ big goals is to make the ACC a tougher place for opponents to visit, they’re going to have to improve with the man advantage to help make that happen. The Leafs have gone five games without a power-play goal (0-for-15) and have just two in their past nine games.
Strangely, the Leafs have become less effective during power plays since Phil Kessel made his debut 17 games ago. Kessel has 10 goals, but has yet to score on a man advantage.
“I think we try to get the puck to Phil too much,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “Everybody here tells me (Tomas) Kaberle can’t shoot the puck, and you have the skills contest and see he can shoot it in the low hundreds.
“I need him to be committed to pounding it. You shoot 100 miles an hour, someone is not going to catch it and go the other way.”
The Islanders’ record since beating the Leafs in overtime last month is 2-5. On their previous visit, they were ending a seven-game trip. Tonight, a five-game trip ends for the Isles.
But the Leafs were not about to rest on the fact they’ve won three of four.
“We have to bite and scratch our way for every two points,” defenceman Mike Komisarek said. “Just because we have a little bit of confidence, we are not going to take it for granted.”