Another night, another tough outing for Jonathan Bernier.
The Toronto goaltender wasn’t sharp in a disappointing 5-3 home loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday. It came just three nights after Bernier was pulled after allowing five goals on 32 shots in the Maple Leafs’ lopsided 7-1 home defeat to the New York Rangers.
Bernier was the victim of some bad luck as two Islanders goals were deflected off Toronto players. But Bernier’s inability to keep the puck from entering the no-play zone behind the Leafs’ net allowed New York’s Michael Grabner to score easily unassisted early in the second, to the dismay of the Air Canada Centre gathering of 19,164.
“That was obviously my bad,” Bernier said. “I thought the puck was stopped.
“When I looked up to see where the guy was, the puck was still rolling.”
Despite giving up five goals against the Rangers, Bernier made his sixth straight start Tuesday. And he wasn’t surprised that Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle let him finish the contest rather than go to James Reimer for a second consecutive contest.
“Why would I get pulled,” Bernier said when asked if he appreciated Carlyle’s decision to leave him in.
Bernier has often been outstanding this season for Toronto (21-18-5) and Carlyle wasn’t about to blame his netminder for the club’s second straight disappointing defeat following three consecutive wins.
“You could say it wasn’t one of his better nights, that’s for sure,” Carlyle said. “We’ve called upon him too many times this year in a lot of situations.
“We did some good things but it just seemed like we were climbing a mountain. Every time we got things going and got back even we couldn’t push it over the mountain. I thought we played passive, we were afraid to make a mistake versus being aggressive and going after it.”
Frans Nielsen, Calvin De Haan and Cal Clutterbuck had third-period goals as New York (16-22-7) outscored Toronto 3-1 in the final period to kick off a six-game road trip with its second win in as many nights. The Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 7-3 on Monday.
Toronto outshot the Islanders 26-25 and made it interesting when Nazem Kadri’s shot deflected in off Joffrey Lupul at 16:55 of the third to cut New York’s lead to 4-3. It was Lupul’s 13th goal of the season but Clutterbuck cemented the win with an empty-net goal at 19:51, his sixth.
“Early on I don’t know if it was nerves or a lack of poise or confidence,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “But now we’re just playing with an attitude, playing with an edge, playing with confidence and doing the right things to give us a chance.”
Islanders captain John Tavares had another productive outing with three assists. Tavares, named to Canada’s Olympic team earlier Tuesday, had three goals and two assists against Dallas.
“We got some timely goals and you take advantage of those when they come your way,” Tavares said. “We did a good job trying to limit their chances.
“When you start to win a few, your confidence starts to come back. I still think the ability is here, it’s the execution and obviously that’s been there the last few weeks.”
Kyle Okposo had the other goal for the Islanders.
Tyler Bozak and Mason Raymond also scored for Toronto, which fell to 14-10-1 at home. Forward Nazem Kadri added two assists and caught Carlyle’s eye.
“I though Nazem was more noticeable around the puck, I thought he was much more visible with the puck,” Carlyle said. “I just think we’ve got to get a lot more aggressive.
“We’re not skating and being the tenacious Toronto Maple Leafs that I expect or everybody expects. Obviously we don’t have enough tenacity in our game right now.”
Kadri said there’s only one way for Toronto to get out of its present funk.
“You just have to go back to work,” he said. “Obviously it takes away a bit of momentum with those lucky bounces but there’s nothing you can do.
“I have to play like that more often, it’s about finding that consistency. The best is ahead of me, I just have to make sure I keep working.”
Bozak opened the scoring, deflecting Paul Ranger’s point shot past New York goalie Kevin Poulin at 5:05 of the first, his sixth of the season. Bozak has two goals and four assists in four games since returning from an oblique injury.
Poulin started ahead of regular Evgeni Nabokov, who was injured in Monday night’s 7-3 win over Dallas. Nabokov’s absence is a definite concern as the Islanders were 1-9-2 when he was out with a groin injury earlier this season.
Okposo pulled New York even at 19:16 with his 17th goal of the season, his wrist shot eluding Bernier.
New York went ahead on the peculiar no-play zone incident early in the second. Bernier left his crease to stop a loose puck behind the Toronto goal but couldn’t prevent it from going outside the no-play zone. That allowed Grabner to take the loose puck and score his sixth goal unassisted on the wraparound at 3:06.
Toronto had four power-play chances in the period but only scored at 8:25 to make it 2-2. Poulin stopped Jake Gardiner’s point shot but Raymond converted the rebound for his 12th goal of the season but just his second in 16 contests.
NOTES — Defenceman Tim Gleason made his Toronto debut . . . Toronto beat the Islanders 5-2 in the first meeting of the season Nov. 19 at the ACC . . . The Leafs visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday before heading to Washington on Friday night. Their next home game is Sunday against New Jersey . . . The Islanders placed Nabokov (lower body) on injured reserve after Monday’s game and recalled Anders Nilsson from Bridgeport of the AHL . . . Okposo missed Monday’s win over Dallas to be present for the birth of his daughter . . . Tavares extended his points streak to seven straight games but teammate Thomas Vanek’s string ended at nine contests.