Leafs Push Past Islanders
/ Toronto Maple Leafs
NEW YORK - For years, the Toronto Maple Leafs played like a franchise without a plan.
Now, in their first season under head coach Mike Babcock and general manager Lou Lamoriello, the Leafs appear to have a blueprint for success.
"We have different systems now and we're doing a better job of playing with (the) system," said Tyler Bozak, who along with Michael Grabner scored 1:40 apart in the second period to lead the Maple Leafs to a 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Sunday night.
After going 1-7-2 in October, the Leafs are 12-7-5 in November and December. Toronto has recorded at least one point in seven of its last eight games (5-1-2). Overall, the Leafs are 13-14-7.
"Guys are buying in," Bozak said.
Jonathan Bernier stopped 25 shots while James van Riemsdyk added an empty-net goal.
"It's about his confidence, it's not about my confidence. If he's confident, I'm confident. If he's not confident, I'm not confident. If he's not confident, his teammates aren't confident," Babcock said of Bernier, who after an 0-9 start to the season was sent to AHL Toronto for a conditioning stint on Dec. 2.
In four games with the Marlies, Bernier compiled a 3-0-1 mark with a 1.25 GAA and .948 save percentage.
"If the goalie plays (well), no one talks about it," Babcock said. "If he doesn't play (well), everyone talks about it."
Thomas Greiss made 35 saves for New York, which has lost four of five. The Islanders fell to 19-12-5.
Nikolay Kulemin scored New York's goal, his third of the season and first since Oct. 20, against Columbus.
"We weren't managing the puck well, starting with myself," John Tavares said. "We have to be a lot better. You're not going to dominate for 60 minutes in this league but you have to make it tough on the opponent. We just made it a little too easy. They made some plays and put us behind the 8-ball."
Following a scoreless first period, Bozak tallied 1:33 into the second period, his ninth of the season. The sequence began with Greiss stopping a shot from the slot by Roman Polak but the goaltender could not control the rebound, and was alone in the right circle.
"It was a good bounce," Bozak said. "That worked out nice, just at the right spot at the right time."
It didn't take long for Toronto to build on its lead.
Grabner haunted his old team as he made it 2-0 with his fifth of the season and the 100th of his NHL career by poking a rebound of a shot by Morgan Reilly into the net at 3:13.
"It felt good," Grabner said.
Toronto acquired Grabner from New York during training camp. The Islanders received prospects Taylor Beck, Matt Finn, Christopher Gibson, Tom Nilsson and Carter Verhaeghe in the trade.
"I was open to it," Grabner said of the trade. "And when I got traded I was just trying to see it as a fresh start."
Kulemin's goal 12:30 into the third period made it 2-1. But that's as close as the Islanders would get. Van Riemsdyk's empty-netter came with 45.3 seconds left.
New York killed both of Toronto's power plays. The Islanders entered the game having killed 29 straight power plays, and 33 of the last 34 man advantages against them.
Toronto outshot New York, 38-26. The Leafs also out-attempted the Islanders, 68-66.
"We passed up some opportunities. Their defence did a good job blocking shots," New York coach Jack Capuano said. "We want to shoot pucks. For whatever reason tonight we passed up chances when we should have been shooting pucks."
NOTES: Before the game, New York announced G Jaroslav Halak had been placed on the injured reserve, retroactive to Dec. 21, with an upper body injury. G Christopher Gibson was called up from Bridgeport of the AHL. In 22 games with the Sound Tigers, Gibson compiled an 11-5-3 record with a 1.99 goals against average, .928 save percentage and two shutouts... Toronto dressed three former Islanders, Brad Boyes, Grabner and P.A. Parenteau... The Leafs scratched Garret Sparks and Frank Corrado... New York scratched Marek Zidlicky, Steve Bernier and Eric Boulton... Claire Arbour, the wife of former Islanders coach Al Arbour, dropped the ceremonial first puck... The announced attendance was 15,795, the third home sellout for the Islanders at Barclays Center. The other sellouts were the Oct. 9 season opener against Chicago and the Dec. 2 game against the crosstown rival Rangers.