The New York Islanders opened up a home-and-home series with the Toronto Maple Leafs with a 3-1 loss on Sunday evening at Barclays Center.
Nikolay Kulemin scored the Islanders’ lone goal late in the third period, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a two-goal deficit. Former Islander Michael Grabner scored the eventual winner early in the second period, while Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk (empty netter) found the back of the net for the Leafs.
“It was one of those games where offensively we didn’t generate much,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “When we had some zone time, we passed up some opportunities and it seemed like our defense couldn’t get any pucks through. They did a good job blocking shots.”
Opportunities were scarce through two periods, as the Islanders were outshot 28-14. Bozak and Grabner struck 1:40 apart early in the second period, giving the Leafs a 2-0 lead. Bozak was the beneficiary of a big kick off the end boards, as Roman Polak’s shot missed the net, hit the boards and bounced out to the Leafs’ forward who beat Thomas Greiss far side. Grabner, who was playing the Islanders for the first time since being traded in September, posted up in the crease and knocked in a rebound off a point shot that Greiss couldn’t fully handle.
Kyle Okposo – returning from a two-game absence – hit the post late in the second period, while Tavares rung one off the iron early in the third, but the Islanders didn’t really find their offensive stride until Kulemin’s goal in the third.
Kulemin’s goal, a sly tip on a Nick Leddy point shot, spurred an Islanders’ surge in the final 7:30 of the third period. The Islanders threw pucks at the net from all angles, including a Brock Nelson try from below the goal line that nearly caromed off a sprawled-out Bernier, but was stopped by Morgan Rielly on the goal line.
Van Riemsdyk iced it with 46 seconds to play.
Greiss was solid for the Islanders on Sunday, stopping 35-of-37 shots in the loss, including a handful of quality saves to keep his team in the game. Greiss slid across his crease to rob Peter Holland’s one-timer and made a toe save on van Riemsdyk in the slot in the third period.
“I thought he gave us a chance to win,” Capuano said. “All you can ask from your goalies is to give you a chance.”
Greiss got the start as Jaroslav Halak was sidelined with an upper-body injury, sustained on Dec. 21 against the Anaheim Ducks. Jonathan Bernier made 25 saves for the Maple Leafs.
There were two more positives for the Islanders to draw out of Sunday’s loss. The penalty kill went 2-for-2, extending its streak to 31 straight kills spanning 14 games. The other positive, another date with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday and a chance to make amends.
“It was disappointing tonight,” John Tavares said. “Not a very good game for us obviously, so we’re lucky we get to see these guys up next, again. We need to refocus, have a good day at practice tomorrow and play with a little more jump and more edge to our game and find a way to generate more opportunities.”