UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The weary Maple Leafs stayed away from Nassau Coliseum on Friday morning, but their opponents weren’t as lucky.
The New York Islanders held team meetings at the rink, where they discussed the ways they will try to stop a fast Leafs club — although one that did not arrive at its hotel across the arena parking lot until the wee hours of Friday.
“Looking at Toronto, one thing they bring is they have some good speed,” Isles coach Jack Capuano said. “They protect the puck really well and they cut back and they get some extended zone time, and they have a couple of defencemen, (John-Michael) Liles and a couple of other guys who like to get involved.
"This is a good test for our team for sure and (Phil) Kessel is having a tremendous year.”
The Islanders defence knows it could have its hands full with Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and others.
“The nice thing about it is we are all mobile,” Islanders defenceman Travis Hamonic said. “You want to try to limit their speed and part of that is going to be limiting how much ice they get through the neutral zone. We have not played them yet, but I know we have to be physical when we can.”
The Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at home, while the Islanders made the 45-minute bus trip into Manhattan to play the New York Rangers and lost 4-2.
The Leafs (17-13-4) are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 38 points. The Islanders (11-15-6) are in 14th place in the East with 28 points.
The Isles will go with Evgeni Nabokov in goal. There was no Leafs availability early on Friday, so it was not clear whether James Reimer or Jonas Gustavsson would get the call in the final game before Christmas for both teams.
In the past two games, Reimer has made an eye-popping 80 saves.
The Leafs will have to be better defensively, as allowing more than 40 shots on a regular basis won’t be the tonic for a lot of wins. But the Islanders don’t have much depth after the line of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau, so the Leafs netminder might not be overly busy.
Tavares has just two goals in his past 21 games.
“It can be frustrating at times, but I don’t think it is taking away from my game,” Tavares said. “I’m trying to be a good all-around player, still being able to create opportunities and have some good chances.”
In 19 career games against the Islanders, Kessel has nine goals and seven assists. Centre Tim Connolly has four goals and 12 assists in 24 games versus the Isles.
The game will mark the first return of Leafs assistant coach Scott Gordon to Long Island. Gordon was the head coach of the Islanders from 2008-10 before he was fired on Nov. 15 of last year.