TORONTO — Key contributors Adam Pelech and Kyle Palmieri finally returned to the Islanders’ lineup on Monday night after long injury absences. Whether it’s in time to save this spiraling season is questionable.
It couldn’t keep the Islanders from losing a season-worst fifth straight game as the Maple Leafs scored four second-period goals for a 5-2 win at Scotiabank Arena. The Islanders gave up three breakaway goals and had another breakaway lead to an unsuccessful penalty shot.
“Situational awareness,” coach Lane Lambert said. “Individual awareness. The penalty-kill goal, a bad change. A couple of guys getting in behind us. It can’t happen. It’s unacceptable.”
The Islanders (23-21-5) extended their skid to 1-6-3 despite two goals by Anders Lee and 33 saves by Ilya Sorokin. They have netted two or fewer goals in nine of their last 10 games and scored 17 goals in that span. Their power play was held without a goal for the seventh straight game.
All which begs the question of how much longer president/ general manager Lou Lamoriello — or ownership — can stomach watching the Islanders drop further from playoff contention without making changes.
Ilya Samsonov made 31 saves for the Maple Leafs (29-11-8), who improved to 18-3-4 at home.
“It’s just the way things have gone,” said Palmieri, who had three shots and an assist in 16:40. “Overall, we know we have to string a couple together and get the locker room feeling better.”
Palmieri and Pelech were activated off injured reserve on Monday. Right wings Hudson Fasching (lower body) and Cal Clutterbuck (upper body) were placed on IR and defenseman Dennis Cholowski was returned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.
Palmieri suffered a suspected head injury in the Islanders’ 3-2 overtime win in Toronto on Nov. 21 and missed 27 of the next 28 games. Pelech was hurt on Dec. 6 with what he confirmed was a head injury and missed 21 games.
“It’s nice to be back with the team,” said the top-pair defenseman, who logged 16:55 and was a minus-3. “The result wasn’t what we wanted. I personally feel like I have to be better.”
The returns of Palmieri and Pelech, which brought noticeable energy in a first period that Lambert called the Islanders’ best this month, ultimately couldn’t help the Islanders reverse their penchant for mistakes leading to goals.
Former Islanders captain John Tavares took eight shots in the second period, one after he slipped past defenseman Alexander Romanov on a bad change for a power-play backhander to tie the score at 2-2 at 7:53 of the period.
Calle Jarnkrok followed with his own breakaway goal for the lead at 9:33, getting past Pelech and Scott Mayfield.
Sorokin briefly kept it a one-goal deficit as he denied Michael Bunting’s penalty shot at 15:24 after Romanov took him down going to the crease.
But William Nylander snapped a high shot from the slot to make it 4-2 at 16:32 of the period. Auston Matthews extended the Maple Leafs’ lead to 5-2 at 7:44 of the third period after being sprung past defenseman Ryan Pulock.
“We got outside of the dots and they had speed going through the middle,” Pelech said.
The Islanders held the Maple Leafs to three shots skating five-on-five in the first period, taking a 1-0 lead as Lee pounced on a rebound at the crease with 22.2 seconds left.
Tavares skated past Anthony Beauvillier and left a backhanded drop for Nylander as the Maple Leafs tied it at 5:07 of the second period. But Lee’s one-timer regained the lead for the Islanders at 6:18 of the second period.
Then it all fell apart. Again.