The Toronto Maple Leafs need to play a better brand of hockey to compensate for the absence of Mitch Marner for at least the next month, but even though the Leafs dominated for long stretches in their first game without last year’s leading scorer, they were undone by giveaways and the hapless performance of their special teams in a 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday.
Kasperi Kapanen, William Nylander, Justin Holl and John Tavares scored for Toronto, and Frederik Andersen made 25 saves in the Leafs third straight loss. The game marked the return of winger Zach Hyman, who took his normal place on the left side with Tavares and Kapanen and played 17:37 on the night.
Toronto were more energetic and won the majority of the puck battles in the first period, but once again surrendered the opening goal, as Andreas Johnsson and Nylander turned over the puck on Mathew Barzal’s 8th of the season. The Isles took advantage of a Travis Dermott tripping penalty to extend their lead to 2-0 on Anthony Beauvillier’s third of the year.
The Leafs responded quickly and dominated the second, registering the first 10 shots of the period and keeping New York away from Andersen. Tavares and Kapanen tipped Dermott’s point shot past Semyon Varlamov 43 seconds into the period and Johnsson and Nylander made up for their defensive gaffe by combining on the tying goal midway through the middle frame, but the Islanders took advantage of another Toronto error, as Tyson Barrie prematurely exited his own zone and after a turnover, Beauvillier scored his second of the game to give New York the lead back.
The special teams were a main cause for the Leafs defeat. Toronto did not register a shot on their two power play opportunities and gave up a pair of goals when New York had the man advantage. Derick Brassard tallied on the power play to extend the lead to two midway through the third and Casey Cizikas scored into an empty net before the Leafs responded with a pair of late goals from Holl and Tavares to make it close.
“I thought we had an outstanding start and played really well, (but when) the period was over, we were down 2-0. I thought we crawled our way back and had a really good second period; gave up very, very little, (but) in the end, we gave up the goal at the end of that.” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “I thought in the third period we weren't as good as we needed to be in order to have success and crawl our way back. It's a one-goal game at the end, but I would have liked it better at 3-2, to be honest with you. We've got to do a better job.”
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