Islanders suffer two losses in Toronto
Drop 4-3 Decision to Leafs after Learning of Halak’s Extended Absence
The New York Islanders were 73 seconds away from making the news of starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak’s extended absence go down a little smoother.
Instead, William Nylander’s tying tally with 1:13 remaining in regulation sparked the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 4-3 shootout victory over the Islanders on Wednesday night in front of 18,889 fans at the Air Canada Centre, snapping New York’s four-game winning streak.
“These points are huge for us,” said Islanders center Ryan Strome, who gave New York what proved to be a short-lived 3-2 lead with a breakaway goal at the 14:41 mark of the third period.
“We had one, but we should have had two,” Strome lamented. “It shows how quickly the game can slip out of your hands.”
And perhaps the season.
Just hours before hitting the ice against the Maple Leafs, the Islanders announced that Halak, who established a new franchise record for wins a season ago and was 18-13-4 before going down with an apparent groin injury Tuesday night against Pittsburgh, would be out for the next month-and-a-half.
That means New York might not have him back in time for a potential opening-round playoff series.
“He’s out at least six weeks,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said of Halak. “We’ll go from there.”
Where they’ll go may ultimately be up to back-up Thomas Greiss, who made 33 saves against the Leafs, but was unable to stonewall Nikita Soshnikov on the only goal of the four-round shootout.
Greiss, who boasts an 18-6-4 mark with a 2-23 goals-against average, will likely be in net for the majority of the Isles’ remaining 17 regular-season contests. He has thrived as Halak’s back-up, but will now be asked to backstop New York into the playoffs.
“Our guys have the confidence in our goaltending,” Capuano insisted. “At the end of the day, we have to play the hockey that we have to play with the injuries that we have. Guys can’t try to put too much pressure on themselves. Guys have to make sure we play simple hockey, simplify and do the little things.
“We have to maintain the structure and foundation of what Islanders hockey is.”
Toronto native John Tavares scored his team-high 25th goal of the season and Nick Leddy also lit the lamp for the Isles, who were coming off Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Pittsburgh at Barclays Center following a near-perfect seven-game road trip.
Though the news of Halak’s injury and fatigue from all the traveling they’ve been doing of late could have contributed to Thursday’s defeat, Tavares wasn’t hearing any of it.
“Playing a late one last night, getting in late, playing a team at home, you have to overcome some things in the NHL, but there are no excuses, we just have to find a way to hold on,” the team captain noted.
“We had a chance to seal the deal and we didn’t.”
The same may be said of New York’s chase for a playoff berth if Greiss and newly minted back-up Jean-Francois Berube can’t carry the Isles into next month’s tournament.
“This is something new for Thomas going forward,” Capuano admitted. “I just know the kind of kid he is, the character that he has and he competes hard.
“Knowing [Greiss], he will embrace the challenge,” he added. “JF is chomping to get in there and play well like he did after the break. Both of those guys work extremely hard and are going to get an opportunity.”
An opportunity to save the Isles’ first season in our fair borough.
Isle Have Another: Tavares, who has amassed 22 points, including 10 goals, in his last 17 games, will be looking for his 200th career goal when the Isles visit Boston on Saturday afternoon … Former Bruins defenseman Leddy is on a tear of late for New York, registering 18 points in his last 18 games … Despite the tough loss in Toronto, the Isles hold a six-point lead over Pittsburgh for third place in the Metropolitan Division standings and are still only two points back of the second-place New York Rangers … Greiss had won three straight starts before Thursday’s loss, but the Islanders have registered at least one point in each of the 30-year-old German’s six appearances (4-0-2). Greiss also made three saves to seal Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the Penguins following Halak’s injury.
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