TORONTO — The Islanders’ first real stinker with Doug Weight behind the bench prompted a candid assessment from the interim coach.
“As much as it’s one loss, that was a humbling loss,” Weight said Tuesday night after a 7-1 thumping from the Leafs.
Weight has tried not to mince words as to what the Islanders faced when he took over Jan. 17. The team sat at 17-17-8, last in the Eastern Conference and seemingly with an insurmountable hill to climb.
In their 8-2-2 run under Weight heading into Tuesday night, the Isles put themselves back into the playoff picture. A win would have vaulted them into the final playoff spot in the East, however temporarily.
Instead, Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen was sharp in making 27 saves through two periods. The Islanders, frustrated by Andersen and two posts in going down 3-1 after two, folded in the third against the youthful, energetic Leafs.
“We had our chances and we didn’t capitalize on them,” said John Tavares, held off the scoresheet for only the fifth time in 14 visits to his hometown. “It wasn’t our sharpest game, there’s no question we didn’t play great, but I thought maybe the four (games) in six nights caught up to us at the end.”
In fairness to the Islanders, they were not fortunate in the first 40 minutes. Adam Pelech’s tough pass for Alan Quine went right to Josh Leivo, who beat Thomas Greiss at 11:36 of the first to open the scoring. Nazem Kadri tipped home a shot from a crowded net front with 28 seconds left in the first to drop the Isles behind by two, and it ballooned to 3-0 when William Nylander drove the net and had a rebound bank off his shin pad and in.
Jason Chimera brought the Isles back to 3-1 on a penalty shot at 16:55 of the second, and the Islanders came close to pulling to 3-2 on a power play soon after.
“I thought we were going to come back and win the game after that, we had momentum on our side,” Chimera said. “It didn’t happen.”
What happened was Auston Matthews scored twice, with the second at 11:51 of the third sending Greiss to the bench for J-F Berube. The six-goal margin marked the Isles’ worst loss of the season and at the worst possible time, with a chance to occupy a playoff position heading into a game against the Rangers at Barclays Center Thursday night.
Instead, they must wipe the memory banks clean and reset.
“We were ready to go, excited, there were some fun implications if we won this game,” Anders Lee said. “You let four, five, six in, it gets pretty demoralizing.”
Weight also sees a team that’s 7-12-4 on the road as one that isn’t going to stay in the playoff chase much longer with poor performances away from Brooklyn. The Isles have 18 of their final 27 on the road; after hosting the Devils Sunday, they will play nine straight on the road.
Weight also won’t shy away from demanding a better performance tomorrow.
“We have a great opportunity Thursday and we should probably play it like a playoff game,’’ he said. “A little harder, a little grittier, a little more determined.”