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Islanders Fall Short Against the Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs Islanders

Saturday night was a tough night for the Islanders for several reasons. Before their game against the Maple Leafs, news broke that Islanders legend Clarke Gillies had passed away. Gillies was the second captain in team history and a critical part of the dynasty team that won four straight Stanley Cups. Gillies was given a touching video tribute before the start of Saturday’s game as well as a flower display set up in front of his plaque at the wall of fame at UBS Arena. The tough night got no easier for the Islanders when they took the ice for their game. The Islanders lost a home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at a score of 3-1 on Saturday night. 


Most of the game’s scoring action came during the first period. The Islanders took two early penalties, but their penalty kill held the elite Leafs power play scoreless. Trouble emerged for the Islanders when they got their own power-play opportunity after a Jason Spezza holding penalty. Mat Barzal turned over the puck to Morgan Rielly seconds into the power play. This led to Mitch Marner beating Semyon Varlamov one on one to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead. In the final minute of the first, Zach Parise got to a loose puck in front of Petr Mrazek and beat him with a backhand to tie the game. Just when it looked like the Islanders would end with the period tied, disaster struck again. 

Ilya Mikheyev took away the puck from Noah Dobson along the boards and set up Pierre Engvall for a backhanded shot that beat Varlamov with 0.4 seconds on the clock. After that, there were no more goals from either side until the third period. A nice passing sequence by the Leafs set up a Morgan Rielly wrist shot goal that beat Varlamov glove side. That goal proved to be enough for the Leafs to secure the 3-1 victory over the Islanders.


Maple Leafs Islanders

Courtesy of Getty Images

The most painful part of this loss was that it was predominantly caused by unforced errors. Both first-period goals were completely avoidable. Just like in their game seven loss against the Lightning, sloppy power-play work made a big difference in the final score. That turnover by Barzal right off the faceoff was simply unacceptable. He has a bad habit of holding onto the puck too long and subsequently turning it over. Normally they only result in zone clearances, but short-handed goals are another real threat with mistakes like that. With how bad this goal was, the second first-period Maple Leafs goal was even worse.

The Islanders are also no stranger to sloppy play in the final minute of a period, but this was exceptionally bad. You could point the finger at a number of players for how this goal played out. First is Dobson, as he made a very poor effort in protecting the puck when Mikheyev was racing towards it. Once Engvall had the puck, Andy Greene also did not do a particularly good job in trying to defend him. And lastly, there’s Varlamov, who did not protect his five-hole well and got beat by a shot he should’ve saved. 

People can debate which of those three are most to blame, but there’s no doubt that the second goal was the momentum shifter. The rest of this game was very bland for the Islanders and they didn’t get any meaningful production. They came up short on another two power plays and couldn’t maintain significant zone time. The second and third periods of this game were very reminiscent of last week’s loss against the Capitals. In both games they came up very flat and failed to capitalize on important power-play chances. These kinds of performances are starting to become a pattern against the league’s better teams.

Inability to Beat Good Teams

To this point, the Islanders have only been able to beat teams that play at their level or worse. When it comes to the legitimately talented teams, the team has been very shaky to say the least. Of the 16 teams that are in a playoff position as of this writing, the Islanders have played 16 total games against them. In those games, the Islanders have a record of 2-11-3. The two wins came in October on the road against the Golden Knights and in December at home against the Boston Bruins. As bad as the record is on it’s own, it actually is worse than it looks. All three of the overtime losses came against Western Conference teams (Sharks, Golden Knights and Predators).

Meaning that in the four point games against the other Eastern Conference teams, the Islanders have won only once. And that was when they beat the Bruins on a night where they were without Brad Marchand or Patrice Begeron. It goes without saying, but the Islanders won’t be able to crawl out of this hole if they can’t beat other playoff teams. Especially the teams that they also have to try and surpass to claim a wild card spot. They’ve been keeping a good amount of these games to within one or two goals, but seldom make up the differential. Being able to play complete games against quality teams is going to be key for this team going forward. Their next chance to beat a team in playoff contention comes Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings, who currently sit at third in the Pacific Division. 

Featured image courtesy of Yahoo! Sports

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