TORONTO — On the second night of a back-to-back, facing a team with a slew of young, eager newbies and on the heels of the news of Jaroslav Halak’s injury absence, the Islanders looked like a fatigued bunch.
The 4-3 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs Wednesday night was still a disappointment. Ryan Strome snapped a 2-2 tie with 5:19 to go, sneaking a puck through Leafs goaltender Garret Sparks and barely over the goal line and the Islanders looked like they would steal two points from 30th-ranked Toronto.
But Strome took a hooking minor with 3:08 to go and William Nylander, one of those Leafs kids, swept a rebound past Thomas Greiss with 1:13 to go to tie it with the Toronto net empty.
After a grueling overtime and three shootout rounds, Nikita Soshnikov beat Greiss for the lone shootout goal.
“We might have been worn down a little bit, but that’s no excuse to not play the full 60,” Strome said. “No doubt they work hard. We matched it for parts of the game, but not enough.”
Now after the trade deadline the Leafs are in full tear-down mode, angling for the best chance at picking first overall in the June draft. But as the Islanders know well, the tear-down usually involves call-ups who want to prove themselves and veterans who want to stick around, so the Leafs haven’t rolled over despite the ugly record.
“We were there two years ago,” Strome said. “We had some young guys and we went on a pretty good run to finish that season. But we still have to finish these games off.”
John Tavares scored on his own rebound 8:08 into the game, Leafs rookie Zach Hyman tied it 3:19 later. Morgan Rielly scored on the power play for the Leafs at 10:45 of the second, Nick Leddy tied it 2:09 later. The two points were there for the Islanders, who are 7-1-2 in their last 10 and now trail the second-place Rangers by two points with two games in hand.
“I don’t know what our record is in back-to-backs the last few years, but I bet it’s pretty good,” coach Jack Capuano said. His team is now 7-3-1 in the second half of back-to-back games, though the late start to Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Penguins in Brooklyn and a delayed trip up here late Tuesday night didn’t help.
“Too many stick infractions,” Capuano said, citing Strome’s hook and a four-minute high stick penalty to Kyle Okposo in the third as evidence of some lazy play. “They just killed any momentum we had.”
Greiss made 16 of his 33 saves in the third period and overtime and looked as sharp as usual as the newly installed main man in goal.
But his teammates fumbled away some pucks and looked weary, either from playing away from home for eight of the past nine games or from the pesky young Leafs flying around the ice.
“They have a lot of young guys looking to make a name for themselves,” Leddy said. “We were good in moments but we have to be better. These points are huge right now for us.”