The New York Islanders lost their first game after the holiday beak, quietly making it four regulation losses in their last five to officially make it a mid-December swoon and officially make Sparky 0-1 in Brooklyn. With a 3-1 victory, the Toronto Maple Leafs took the first half of a home-and-home in their maiden voyage to the Isles' new home, controlling play as if these teams' records were reversed.
To add nostalgia, poetry and angst to an otherwise incredibly dull evening, ex-Islander Michael Grabner returned in a different blue uniform, and his second-period goal held up as the game-winner.
With Jaroslav Halak on IR, Thomas Greiss took over duties and did fine in stopping 35 of 37 shots. The Isles only mustered 26 shots on Jonathan Bernier, almost half of them in the third period when they finally woke up enough to push forward and chase a comeback that only briefly looked possible.
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The Isles were the weaker team in the first 20 minutes but not to any degree that it would be unfair for the teams to enter the first intermission with a scoreless draw. It was the second period where the Islanders really looked like they were still stuck on a holiday break, and the Maple Leafs struck early.
Neither goal was exactly a result of the kind of play by which the Leafs would control the rest of the period, but hockey gods work in mysterious ways. Tyler Bozak's goal at 1:33 of the second came on a simple counterattack, benefiting from a friendly Barclays bounce off the end boards that landed right in the sweet spot for Bozak.
Just 1:40 later, Michael Grabner picked up the loose change on a rebound behind Thomas Greiss to score his fifth goal of the season against his old team. That one brought some knowing cheers from the Isles faithful, and a few more once he was announced as the goal scorer.
The teams exchanged failed power plays in the period, in which the Leafs outshot the Isles 16-6.
The Isles were more awake in the third period, and they finally got on the board with a little over seven minutes left in regulation. Great elusive work by Ryan Strome in the corner with the puck allowed the Isles to set up in the offensive zone. He peeled away to feed Nick Leddy who had time and space at the point to send a shot along the ice that Nikolay Kulemin redirected past Bernier.
The Islanders had a few more chances including while pulling Greiss for a sixth attacker during live action. But each ensuing faceoff with the goalie pulled did not go the Isles' way, and diligent forechecking and neutral zone clogging work by the Leafs kept the Isles from pressuring again and ultimately enabled James van Riemsdyk's empty netter to complete scoring at 3-1 with 45 seconds to go.
Sparky makes his debut at @barclayscenter! #Isles https://t.co/6nNAyPGaXe— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 28, 2015
Sparky hanging with #Isles fans at tonight's game. pic.twitter.com/2vQlV3sZPj— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 28, 2015
The teams meet again Tuesday in Toronto, before the Isles close out 2015 in Buffalo on New Year's Eve.