The Toronto Maple Leafs had every reason to win but found a way to lose 5-3 against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, writes Mike Brophy.
The Toronto Maple Leafs hold down a playoff position; the New York Islanders sit 14th in the eastern Conference.
The Maple Leafs had Monday night off; the Islanders played at home.
The Maple Leafs got a good night's sleep; the Islanders didn't arrive to their hotel in Toronto until 3 a.m.
So who won when the two teams hooked up Tuesday night?
The Toronto Maple Leafs...did not.
In fact, with the Islanders' 5-3 victory, the New York Rangers and Islanders pounded the Maple Leafs by a combined score of 12-4.
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was not impressed with his team's effort.
"I thought we played passively...or afraid to make a mistake, versus going after it," Carlyle said.
Forty-four games in, Carlyle believes the Maple Leafs have a long way to go before becoming the team he envisions.
"I just think we have to get a lot more aggressive," the coach said. "We're not skating and being the tenacious Toronto Maple Leafs that I expect. We don't seem to have enough tenacity in our game right now."
Back-to-back bad for Bernier
Toronto starter Jonathan Bernier struggled for the second straight game. After being pulled while trailing the New York Rangers 5-0 Saturday, he surrendered a few soft goals against the Islanders.
The back-breaker was a shot from outside the blue line by the Islanders' Calvin de Haan that hit Phaneuf's stick, but still seemed eminently stoppable. That made the score 4-2 for the Islanders. The puck was in the trapezoid and Bernier seemed confused about what to do with it. If he played it, he would have been penalized. He made no excuses.
"(The trapezoid) has been there for a while now and I should know what to do," he said after the game.
The Maple Leafs have leaned hard on their goalies at times this season and Bernier has turned in some great performances. The game against the Islanders was not one of them.
"You can say it wasn't one of his better nights, that's for sure," Carlyle said. "You can't point your finger at one guy for losing. You can't give up five goals and win in NHL."
Right-winger David Clarkson (bruised foot) and defenceman Carl Gunnarsson (upper body, shoulder) joined centre David Bolland (severed tendon) on the Maple Leafs injured list. Carlyle said Clarkson and Gunnarsson are both day-to-day.
Gleason makes debut
Veteran defenceman Tim Gleason, obtained last week in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, took Gunnarsson's place on Toronto's top defence pairing with captain Dion Phaneuf. Gleason played 15:55 on 20 shifts with two shots on goal and was minus-2.
Bozak remains hot
Toronto's No. 1 centre Tyler Bozak continues to hold a hot hand since returning from an oblique injury last week. Bozak has points in all four games he has played, a total of two goals and six points.
Toronto centre Nazem Kadri was having trouble on offence in recent games, but had two assists against the Islanders. Also, on a night when there wasn't much to smile about for the Maple Leafs, Kadri going 11-3 in the faceoff circle was a bright spot.
"That is something I am always going to try to get better at," Kadri said. "Faceoffs are so important in this league and I didn't even realize it until I turned pro."
Tough day for the captain
Phaneuf went to bed Monday night dreaming about representing Canada at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. By noon Tuesday he knew that would not happen. The Maple Leafs captain, who is a solid shutdown defender that often frustrates the top scorers on every team he faces, did not make the cut. Russia cool on Kulemin
If Phaneuf had a disappointing day where the 2014 Winter Olympics are concerned, Maple Leafs right-winger Nikolai Kulemin was named to Team Russia. Kulemin is mostly a checker in Toronto, with five goals (three game-winners) and 11 points in 31 games, but it should be noted during the lockout last season he had a whopping 14 goals and 38 points in 36 games with Magnitogorsk of the KHL playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin.
"It is going to be a lot of pressure on us," Kulemin said about the Olympics being played in his home country. "Everybody loves hockey so much in Russia. I could only dream about it when I was young and you never know if it would be in Russia. I am so happy to make the Olympic team and to play at home, too."
Hey, remember me?
Former Maple Leafs defenceman John-Michael Liles, traded to Carolina for Gleason, was plus-5 in his first three games with the Hurricanes.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.
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