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Trevor Moore (42) of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a faceoff against the New York Islanders at Scotiabank Arena on Dec. 29, 2018 in Toronto, Ont.Claus Andersen/Getty Images

In the past 18 days, the Toronto Maple Leafs had two important games. They lost them both, raising several questions as the calendar year closes.

The first came on Dec. 13, when the only NHL team having a better season than them but also the one they have to hurdle to get out of the Atlantic Division in the playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, handed the Leafs a 4-1 loss. In that one, the Leafs could say, and did, they outplayed the Lightning only to lose to a hot goaltender, albeit one who had just returned from a serious injury.

The second came Saturday night, a 4-0 no-show against the New York Islanders, which left them with no excuses. This was the much-anticipated reunion match. The focal point was John Tavares, who left the Islanders after nine seasons to sign with his hometown team and is having a career season. But also arriving with the Islanders were general manager Lou Lamoriello, pushed out in Toronto last summer in favour of Kyle Dubas, and forwards Leo Komarov and Matt Martin, deemed excess baggage by the Leafs.

Only the Islanders showed any of the emotion typical of such games. Despite being 12 points behind the Leafs in the NHL standings, the Islanders thoroughly outplayed the Leafs, leaving behind the aforementioned questions.

While there is no question the Leafs have the skill to challenge for the Stanley Cup, do they have the determination to do so when the slogging goes uphill?

There is also no question about the Leafs depth at most positions, but they are most vulnerable in goal. What happens if Frederik Andersen’s allegedly minor groin injury lingers?

Fortunately for the Leafs, they have four days to address the problems until they are back on the ice at home on Thursday afternoon (the 2 p.m. Eastern start is for a promotion aimed at youth). But there is no doubt at least some of them are thinking hard about the poor effort, which broke a five-game winning streak.

“To have one like this is disappointing, and we have quite a few days off now,” Tavares said. “It’s going to leave a sour taste, that punch-in-the-gut kind of feeling. Hopefully we can learn from this and know we have to play a lot better than we did.”

While head coach Mike Babcock spoke of how the Leafs went into the Islander game on the winning streak and might have been due for a letdown he also acknowledged the lack of excuses, especially because the game was so important to Tavares. While the Leafs were playing in the second of back-to-back, road-and-home games for example, it was also the Islanders’ second of back-to-backs in the same circumstances.

“They travelled, we travelled. They played, we played. Everything was even, they were better than us,” Babcock said. “So, that’s on us. We’ve got to fix that.”

Fixing it, Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said, starts with self-examination, which is where the determination question comes in.

“Obviously, you’re not happy with it and it’s not a game that we’re proud of but over the course of the year you’re going to have nights where you’re not proud of what goes on,” Rielly said. “It’s our job to limit the amount of time that happens but, yeah, you’re right. I think on a home game, on Hockey Night in Canada, I think the expectation is that you’re always going to come out and work hard and be ready to play and obviously, that wasn’t the case [Saturday].

“We’ll have to look in the mirror and address what happened. ... We’ve got two practices before our next game. It’s important that we take care of business.”

The first order of business is the goaltending. Andersen’s groin injury was unexpected, cropping up at Friday’s morning skate before the Leafs’ win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. This resulted in the emergency recall of journeyman Kasimir Kaskisuo from the Toronto Marlies farm team and, a few hours later, a trade with the Florida Panthers for Michael Hutchinson for a 2020 fifth-round draft pick.

Unlike Kaskisuo, Hutchinson has some NHL experience, having played 106 games for the Panthers and Winnipeg Jets. The speed of the trade suggests the Leafs are worried about how long Andersen may be out but Babcock insisted the trade had been in the works for some time and Andersen’s injury is not considered serious.

However, given that Andersen’s work this season has him in the conversation for the Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender it is quite a drop from him to backup Garret Sparks. The best thing about Sparks this season is his 6-1-1 record, which is in large part because of the Leafs’ ability to score in bunches.

Sparks is not making a smooth adjustment from Marlies No. 1 goaltender to Andersen’s backup, although he did show improvement in both the Columbus and Islander games.

On the Islanders matter, the Leafs get a do-over, as they will play them again on Feb. 28. That game will be much more emotional because it will be Tavares’s first appearance since his departure in front of the fans in New York, who still feel mightily betrayed.

But with the Andersen situation, if he still cannot play by Thursday then the Leafs had better hope his teammates have flushed that Islander performance away.

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