Islanders strike first just 61 seconds in, then add to lead six minutes later. Playing in the second half of a back-to-back, two-games-in-two-nights road trip, the Maple Leafs surrendered the first goal Sunday in Brooklyn, and it came quickly - just 1:01 into the opening period, on Travis Hamonic's second marker of the season. Six minutes and 21 seconds later, the Islanders added to their lead when centre Casey Cizikas beat Toronto goaltender Jhonas Enroth for his first of the year, and the Buds trailed 2-0 after 20 minutes of play.
The Leafs scored the first goal in each of their first four games this year, but after Hamonic's goal, they've now allowed their opponent to score first in each of their past five games. Toronto hasn't had their competitiveness disappear after falling behind early, and that much was true again Sunday. However, they aren't doing themselves any favours by not capitalizing on their chances at the beginning of games and expending all sorts of energy trying simply to pull even.
Leafs turn on jets in middle frame and dictate game's pace for lengthy stretches, but Greiss comes up big for Isles to preserve two-goal advantage. The Isles outshot Toronto 13-10 in the first period, but the Leafs weren't deterred in the second, outshooting the home team 17-12 and coming close to getting on the scoreboard a number of times. Unfortunately for Leafs Nation, Toronto was thwarted by netminder Thomas Greiss throughout the first two periods, and the score remained 2-0 heading into the third.
After taking on superstar Carey Price in Montreal Saturday, the Buds can be forgiven if they felt frustrated by taking on another hot goalie 24 hours later. But the reality is that just about any NHL goalie can steal his team a win on any given night, and the Leafs have to press on and find ways to generate offense. It hasn't been an issue for them at the beginning of the 2016-17 campaign, but this recent dry spell shows you the fine line between success and failure in hockey's best league.
Video: TOR@NYI: Gardiner puts Leafs on the board with PPG
Toronto cuts Islanders' lead in half with power play goal at start of the third. The Leafs' power play unit has been coming through consistently of late, and on their third man advantage of the game Sunday, they again produced offense: blueliner Jake Gardiner scored his first goal of the season at the 50-second mark of the third to make it 2-1 Isles.
Gardiner's slap shot from the point beat Greiss - who was well-screened by winger James van Riemsdyk - and gave Toronto six power play goals-for on the road this season, tying them with Carolina for first in the NHL in that category. The Buds' special teams are functioning well, and they'll need them to if they continue having difficulties scoring at even-strength.
Unlucky bounce leads to Isles' third goal, and Buds' defensive miscue gives them three-goal lead less than three minutes later. Toronto was aiming to even the score after Gardiner's goal, but an unfortunate bounce less than five minutes later restored the Islanders' two-goal lead: on a routine dump-in along the boards and into the Leafs' zone, Enroth went out behind his net to corral the puck - but an unfortunate bounce pushed the puck out almost directly in front of the net and onto the stick of centre Shane Prince, who fired it home to make it 3-1 Isles.
Two-minutes-and-39-seconds after that, the Islanders increased their lead when a Leafs breakdown in defensive zone coverage resulted in Prince setting up winger Brock Nelson for his third goal of the year. That combination of bad luck and bad form might be something a team can overcome at the start of a game, but not when they were already trailing by a goal and when they trailed by two goals for much of the night.
Toronto's overall play in their own end wasn't consistent enough to put them in a winning position. By the time Josh Bailey scored the final goal of the game with 46 seconds left in regulation, the victor had long been established.
Nylander's assist vaults him near the top of the NHL in the helpers department. Forward William Nylander received the primary assist on Gardiner's goal, his team-best seventh helper of the season and his ninth point in his past six games. The 20-year-old is now in an 11-way tie for second place in the NHL in assists this year, trailing leader Claude Giroux of Philadelphia by three.
The assist also tied Nylander's career high he established last season in 22 games with Toronto. Needless to say, his development is something to behold.