TORONTO — The calendar says there’s still time. The standings say the Islanders have a chance. But though they have 29 more games to eke their way into the playoffs, Wednesday night proved that it might be getting late very early for this Islanders team.
The Islanders gave up five goals a night after they gave up four, and struggled to put together any semblance of a threat in a frustrating 5-0 loss to the Maple Leafs. The Leafs dominated on defense, clogging up shooting lanes and incapacitating the Isles’ first two lines.
It doesn’t make it any better that Toronto has been floated as a possible landing spot for John Tavares, should he decide not to sign a contract extension, and the Leafs — fast, disciplined, and suddenly a more formidable team than a recent slump would indicate — sure looked like a lot of fun to play for.
“It’s really unacceptable the level we’re playing at,” Tavares said. “We’re not going to win many hockey games or really be in it the way we played the last couple of nights . . . The way we’ve played the last couple nights is not even close to what we need to be to get where we need to get to . . . It’s hard to be at a certain standard every night, especially in this league, with how competitive it is. We’ve just got to be a lot better.”
Five different players scored for the Leafs, including Justin Holl and Travis Dermott, defensemen who notched their first NHL goals. The Leafs outshot the Islanders 50-28. Frederik Andersen earned the shutout after losing his last four at home.
The Islanders (25-22-5) stick at 55 points, and are jostling for position in a very crowded Metropolitan division; they remain on the outskirts of a playoff wild card spot.
“We didn’t just drop a game,” Doug Weight said. “We worked and we didn’t succeed. They had a lot more jump than we did. I had plenty of messages this morning and they didn’t need to hear from me after the game. If anyone knows how important it is, it’s the guys in that room. This wasn’t an effort that was lax or lazy. It wasn’t. It was disappointing.”
The Leafs struck first, and these days for the Islanders the first strike is all too often a knockout punch. Going into Wednesday, the Islanders were 8-18-5 in games where the opposing team scored first, and Weight specifically noted that they needed to get off to a quick start after Tuesday’s thoroughly lackluster effort in the loss to the Panthers.
No such luck: Thomas Greiss initially made a chest save off Dermott’s snap shot, but the puck bounced around a crowded crease and was eventually nicked by Kasperi Kapanen, the puck skittering off Mathew Barzal and past Greiss for a 1-0 Maple Leafs lead at 5:37.
The Leafs added on quickly. At 13:35, Greiss poked away a shot by Zach Hyman, but received little help from Scott Mayfield and Nick Leddy, who missed Auston Matthews coming in for the rebound. Matthews’ top shelfer — which banged against the crossbar and plunked in — was his 23rd goal of the season and gave the Leafs a 2-0 lead going into the second period.
The Leafs outshot the Islanders 13-4 in the first period, and the Leafs’ defense dominated the Islanders in their offensive zone.
Leddy, who was victimized on the Leafs’ second goal, suffered a similar fate on their third. It was then that Mitch Marner’s one-timer — off a feed from Nazem Kadri — slipped past the Islanders’ defenseman and by the screened Greiss for the 3-0 lead. Dermott tacked on another with 1:01 left in the second period, while Holl scored a little more than five minutes into the third.
“Look at the game as a 5-0 game if you want,” Weight said. “Andersen was superb tonight and we missed the net on three or four point blankers in the first period . . . It is what it is. It’s tough.”