The Toronto Maple Leafs look to reverse a bizarre trend and go into the holiday break on a winning note as the club visits the New York Islanders on Friday night. The Maple Leafs have won just five of their last 20 games on Friday nights, including back-to-back contests earlier this month. Making things even tougher this time around is the fact that Toronto has lost 17 of its last 22 visits to Long Island.
The Maple Leafs come into Friday’s tilt having ended a four-game losing skid with a 3-2 victory over division-rival Buffalo on Thursday. The Isles will be looking to bounce back from a 4-2 loss to the cross-town rival Rangers on Thursday, which halted a two-game winning streak.
Phil Kessel dug himself out of a mini-slump with his 20th goal Thursday and netminder James Reimer stopped 40 shots to remain unbeaten in regulation at home this season. As good as Reimer has been at home (6-0-3), his road resume has been less than stellar. The 23-year-old is 0-3-0 with a 4.25 goals-against average in four appearances away from Toronto.
The Isles, who haven’t earned a regulation victory since Dec. 6, continue to lose ground in the tough Atlantic Division. The return of two key players helped soften the blow. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov made 21 saves in his first start since Nov. 17, while defenseman Mark Eaton saw his first action since suffering a knee injury 13 games ago. Toronto native Matt Moulson has five goals in eight career games against the Maple Leafs, while Mississauga’s John Tavares has struck four times in eight games against his hometown team.
FLAMES vs. CANUCKS
With the World Junior Hockey Championships invading Alberta until the New Year, Calgary finds itself in the midst of a stretch that will see the club play 11 of 13 games on the road starting Friday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Flames went 0-2-2 over last week’s four-game trip, and now has to deal with being away from home until Jan. 7. At least Calgary comes in on a winning note, earning consecutive one-goal home victories over Minnesota and Detroit to give Flames fans something to celebrate. The Canucks have looked sensational during a three-game winning streak that has moved the team to within a point of the reeling Minnesota Wild atop the Northwest Division.
Calgary captain Jarome Iginla has six goals in his last nine games, including the 497th of his career in Tuesday’s win over Minnesota. Vancouver's Henrik Sedin sits second in the league with 40 points, three back of overall leader Claude Giroux. Twin brother Daniel is right behind with 39 points. The two have been sensational in December, with Henrik racking up 16 points in 10 games and Daniel recording 12 points in nine contests.
Vancouver has a pair of 5-1 victories over Calgary already this season – one at Rogers Arena, the other at Scotiabank Saddledome. The Canucks are 12-2-1 since Nov. 20.
JETS vs. PENGUINS
Winnipeg fans clamoring for a chance to see Sidney Crosby in person for the first time went home disappointed two months ago. The Penguins superstar is not in the lineup again as Pittsburgh takes on the Jets at the MTS Centre on Friday night.
In the first meeting between the clubs since the Jets relocated from Atlanta, Winnipeg scored a 2-1 win on Oct. 17. That game marked the first NHL victory in Winnipeg since 1996 – and the Jets have racked up a whole bunch more since. Winnipeg sports a 12-5-1 home mark, and has gone 3-1-1 on its six-game homestand that concludes Friday night.
The Jets are coming off an impressive 4-0 shutout of the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. Pittsburgh has won two straight games and hasn’t lost a beat without Crosby – thanks in large part to a recent scoring surge from Evgeni Malkin. The Russian forward has 10 goals and 15 assists in his last 14 games. The streak is highlighted by nine multi-point efforts, including a three-assist performance in Tuesday’s 3-2 victory over the NHL-leading Chicago Blackhawks.
Blake Wheeler’s two-goal game in Thursday’s win was his first multi-goal effort since April 5. Wheeler, who leads the club with 18 assists, had only three goals prior to Thursday's outburst. The 25-year-old has 10 goals and 28 assists in 56 games since coming to the Jets franchise in a trade with Boston.
SENATORS vs. HURRICANES
The Ottawa Senators are suddenly riding a nice wave of momentum, securing their third straight win with a 4-3 overtime triumph over the Florida Panthers on Thursday. After dropping five of six to begin the month, Ottawa has a chance to make a move at the end of December. The Hurricanes are one of the worst defensive teams in the league and are coming off a home loss to Phoenix on Wednesday in which they squandered a two-goal lead. The setback dropped Kirk Muller to 2-6-2 since taking over as coach on Nov. 29.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson has 16 points in the last 12 games, including nine over the past four. He missed the first meeting against Carolina and was held scoreless in the second encounter this season but has recorded 43 points in 51 career games against the Hurricanes.
Carolina has dropped 11 of its last 13 games but showed mild improvement in a three-game stretch prior to Wednesday’s loss. But just as the Hurricanes have been unable to coax an extended stretch of strong play out of center Eric Staal, goaltender Cam Ward has been unable to string together more than one or two solid outings. Ward has allowed three or more goals in seven of his eight starts this month.
Follow us on Twitter: