Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 3-1 win over the New York Islanders Sunday at Barclays Center:
Puck luck is real, and sometimes, it’s spectacular.
There’s no question NHLers are incredibly talented with the puck, but there’s also no question teams are proficient at limiting the skills of even the best players. Sometimes the difference between wins and losses at this level is a puck bounce or two in your favour, and the Leafs were beneficiaries of two very good bounces in the second period.
The first came at the 1:33 mark, when Roman Polak’s shot bounced off the end boards and out the other side and directly to teammate Tyler Bozak, who promptly fired it past goalie Thomas Greiss for the first goal of the game Sunday. The second came just 1:40 later, when Morgan Rielly’s shot from the point bounced to former Islander Michael Grabner, who scored his fifth of the season and the 100th of his career. Of course, it’s not lucky if you don’t capitalize on the chances, so full marks to Bozak and Grabner for their opportunism.
The Leafs weren’t just fortunate.
They were really good. After a lukewarm start to the game, Toronto got their legs under them and became the dominant team, outshooting the Isles 16-6 in the second period and 28-14 after 40 minutes of play. It sometimes takes this Leafs team a few shifts to find their stride, but once again, the Buds were able to find it and be more than competitive against a team many expect to make the playoffs.
Jonathan Bernier is warming up.
The Leafs goaltender had another winning night – his third victory in his past four games – by stopping 25 of the 26 shots the Isles fired at him. The 27-year-old benefitted from a strong showing by his teammates, but Bernier was there when he needed to be – especially when he robbed Brock Nelson with a spectacular left pad save in the third period. With James Reimer aiming for a return to action soon, Bernier must show he can still push for ice time, and Sunday, he did a solid job of that.
A disciplined day for the Buds.
The Leafs don’t have their penalty kill among the league leaders at the moment, but when the group plays a nearly penalty-free game as it did against the Isles, there’s no need to rely on the PK. Indeed, Toronto only gave the Isles one penalty – and at that, a highly-questionable penalty on blueliner Matt Hunwick – and limited the home team to only one shot on Bernier during that man advantage. Buds coach Mike Babcock has to be happy with the smarts his team is showing right now.
JVR rewarded at the end for a good effort.
For most of the night, veteran winger James van Riemsdyk was one of the Leafs’ best players, using his speed and instincts to help keep the puck in Toronto’s possession considerably more often than not. So when van Riemsdyk happened to score the Buds’ empty-net goal (and his 13th of the season) with 46 seconds left in regulation time, it was a nice reward on offense for an exceptional effort.