While the Toronto Maple Leafs appear to have finally found themselves, the New York Islanders are still lost.
The latest chapter of each story features the other as the Maple Leafs will try to sweep a home-and-home set on Tuesday night against the visiting Islanders.
Toronto (13-14-7) opened the season 1-7-2 in October but is 12-7-5 since. The Maple Leafs have at least one point in seven of their last eight games and have won three of four.
After averaging 2.1 goals in their first 26 games, the Maple Leafs have scored 3.9 in their last eight.
“We have different systems now and we're doing a better job of playing with (the) system,” said center Tyler Bozak. “Guys are buying in.”
The latest example was Sunday's 3-1 victory at New York, just Toronto's second against the Islanders in the last six meetings. Bozak extended his point streak to three games with a second-period goal, and former Islander Michael Grabner added the 100th of his career 1:40 later.
James van Riemsdyk scored into an empty net, giving him goals in three straight games and five points in that span. After scoring seven goals in his first 27 games and going without one for eight in a row, van Riemsdyk has six in his last seven games.
The best sign on Sunday for the Maple Leafs, however, was goaltender Jonathan Bernier's 25-save performance. The eight-year veteran opened the season 0-8-1 with a 3.28 goals-against average and was sent to the AHL for a conditioning stint on Dec. 2. He's been inconsistent with a 2.74 GAA in six appearances since his return, though he has won three of his last four starts and will be in net again on Tuesday.
“It's about his confidence, it's not about my confidence,” coach Mike Babcock said. “If he's confident, I'm confident. If he's not confident, I'm not confident. If he's not confident, his teammates aren't confident.”
New York's confidence is wavering in similar fashion. The Islanders have followed an 8-0-2 streak with losses in four of five.
New York (19-12-5) earned a 5-2 win over Anaheim on Dec. 21 but scored three goals in the surrounding four defeats. The Islanders, winners of five of six in Toronto, were outshot 38-26 on their home ice Sunday.
“We passed up some opportunities. Their defense did a good job blocking shots,” coach Jack Capuano said. “We want to shoot pucks. For whatever reason (on Sunday) we passed up chances when we should have been shooting pucks.”
New York did, however, kill off both of Toronto's power plays to move the league's second-best penalty kill percentage to 87.3. The Islanders have killed off all 31 of their opponents' power plays in the last 14 games. Toronto's power play has converted on 4 of 7 attempts in its last three.
With Jaroslav Halak placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury on Sunday, New York will start Thomas Greiss again in net. Greiss, who made 35 saves in Sunday's loss, has a 1.24 GAA in his past four starts.
Islanders captain John Tavares has one goal in his last 10 games overall, but has 17 points in 11 career games at Toronto.