When the Maple Leafs’ Michael Grabner returned to New York to face the Islanders, his former squad, he couldn’t help but notice the difference in pregame.
“It’s not really a homecoming in that way because the Coliseum was home,” he said in front of his Barclays Center visitor’s locker after Sunday morning’s skatearound in preparation for the Islanders.
But it was the first time that Grabner, who had 90 goals and 54 assists in 297 games with the Islanders, faced the team that traded him in September. Rather than focusing on the departure, Grabner was thankful for the opportunity he had in New York.
“They gave me a fresh start,” Grabner said. “That’s where my career really started.”
Grabner, who greeted his old pals Sunday night by scoring his fifth goal of the season, is a former 14th overall selection who bounced around before the Islanders claimed him off waivers for the 2010-11 season and kept him for five seasons. Grabner’s presence was immediately felt as he scored 34 goals, which is still a career high, and gave Islanders fans a reason for optimism.
“They were rebuilding at the time and they gave me the opportunity to play and when they give you the opportunity you just got to try to take it,” he said. “I had some great memories here but that’s what it is — memories. So now I’m going to focus on my new job here with the Maple Leafs and try to beat them tonight.”
John Tavares was neighbors with Grabner on Long Island and the two remain close. The Islanders captain said he can imagine the emotions Grabner must be going through.
“I can’t speak from experience,” Tavares said, “but I know a lot of guys who have played here before or other players that switch teams. Obviously, especially when it’s so soon, you want to prove you were a part of the solution. You were someone that was obviously a good player [that] they shouldn’t have gotten rid of.”
Grabner was excited to see some former teammates, but it was especially those in the crowd that got him going.
“They have a good fan base,” he said. “They have some hard-core fans and it’s going to be a lot of fun to play here. I think they are going to be loud and like I said before, the memories I had before were great, so it’s going to be a lot of fun to play here.”
Halak placed on IR
Before Sunday’s game, the Islanders placed goaltender Jaroslav Halak on injured reserve with an upper-body injury and activated goaltender Chris Gibson. Halak played well this season, going 10-6-3 in 20 games with a 2.09 goals against average — the ninth best in the league and fourth for goaltenders with at least 20 games.
Thomas Greiss — who has never played in more than 25 games in an NHL season — will be called upon to play a larger role. Entering Sunday, Greiss was 9-4-3 in 15 games with a 2.03 goals against average — fifth in the NHL.