Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel scored with 5:41 left to give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders at the Air Canada Centre. It was a game that both teams needed to win, making the final push to get in to the playoffs.
A big effort up front was imperative for an Islanders win, but for the first time in a long time, the team struggled to create plays in the offensive zone. As a result, Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said turnovers, as well as a weak power play – the Islanders were 1-for-6 on the man advantage - led to the loss.
“You can’t keep taking the puck back and that’s what our forwards did tonight, they curled back towards Al (Montoya), versus keeping the puck going north,” Capuano said. “When you do that, you give yourself problems.”
He continued, “If you don’t shoot the puck, you’re not going to score. They pressured us hard, we knew what they were going to do, but they outworked us. When you outwork a power play, your power play is not going to be too successful. That’s what happened tonight.”
Matt Moulson, whose goal at 8:09 in the second lit a fire under the team, said they just didn’t play up to their potential for the entire game.
“I don’t think we worked as hard as we could,” Moulson said. “That’s basically it. You’re not going to have great plays every single power play, but you have to work. All of us, I don’t know if we worked as hard as we could have.”
Even though he didn’t record a win, goaltender Al Montoya stepped up and had a big game once again. With 23 saves on some high-quality shots, he gave the Islanders every opportunity to stay in the game, keeping the score tied at one until Kessel scored.
“He was great,” Capuano said. “He gave us a chance to win the game tonight. Like I said, a couple forwards on the backcheck blew coverage here tonight and he made some big saves when he had to. When you give a good player (like Phil Kessel) that kind of room, coming down the ice, a lot of times he’s going to score a goal. Al (Montoya) gave us a good chance tonight.”
Montoya said he felt good.
“I felt like I came here to give the team a chance,” Montoya said. “We just needed that once bounce to go our way. The puck wasn’t going in the net for us tonight. I knew I was going to have to shut the door, but they came down and got a good break.”
Unfortunately, injuries and penalties to the Isles defensive core turned out to be a major factor in the outcome of the game. Earlier in the day, the Islanders announced that veteran blueliner Radek Martinek was out of the equation and he was scratched with a lower body injury. And after just three shifts and 2:18 of time on ice, defenseman Milan Jurcina left the ice with a groin injury, leaving the Isles with just five defensemen through the majority of the game.
Darryl Boyce #47 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoots the puck past Jack Hillen #38 of the New York Islanders during game action February 22, 2011 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
“That’s got to be tough for them, for the defensemen,” Montoya said. “They played unbelievable tonight. It was our younger defensemen that were playing so hats off to them. If you don’t really know what was going on, you couldn’t tell. They worked so hard, they played hard. It’s a tough loss, especially for those guys that battled so hard.”
“It really hurt us when we lost (Milan) Jurcina early on,” Capuano said. “Then Travis (Hamonic) got a 10-minute misconduct. I give a lot of credit to our defense tonight. They worked extremely hard.”
Toronto took the at 10:13 in the first period on Clarke MacArthur’s 17th goal of the season. No matter how hard the Isles worked, and how many ‘Grade A’ opportunities they had, the one power play goal from Moulson in the second period was the only goal they’d score.
“(James Reimer) made some big saves,” Moulson said about the Leafs goaltender. “He was in the right place with the one Jack Hillen had. There was a lot of traffic. I don’t even know if he saw (the puck), but it went in his glove and he just seemed to be in the right place.”
The Isles will have their opportunity to take revenge on the Maple Leafs in two weeks time. They have a 7 p.m. matchup at Nassau Coliseum on Tues. March, 8.