Maybe it’s best if Sparky stays in Nassau County.
After emerging from the tunnel during the first intermission to entertain a sold out Barclays Center crowd of 15,795, the Islanders’ Nassau Coliseum mascot was unable to provide the lift his name implies to begin play in the second period. In fact, it was the exact opposite.
After a scoreless first 20 minutes, Toronto’s Tyler Bozak corralled a shot off the boards from Roman Polak and beat Islanders goalkeeper Thomas Greiss out of position for the first goal of the Maple Leaf’s 3-1 victory over the Islanders Sunday night. It was Bozak’s ninth goal of the season and came just 1:33 into the second period. And it didn’t take Toronto long to repeat itself.
Former Islander and longtime fan favorite Michael Grabner got a loose puck on a rebound in the front of the net that Greiss wasn’t able to play cleanly. Grabner’s goal came 1:40 after Bozak’s goal. It was his fifth of the season and 100th of his career. The Islanders traded Grabner — who had 90 of his goals with the Islanders — in September for prospects.
Before the game, he was asked what it would mean to score his 100th goal against the team that traded him. Said Grabner: “It would definitely make it special but I’ll take the two points over a goal. So if I score and we win, that works but at the end of the day, I just want to try to get the win here and help the team anyway I can.”
The Islanders (19-12-5, 43 points) had a strong showing in the game’s opening minutes, but the Maple Leafs (13-14-7, 33 points) outshot New York 12-8 in the first period and 38-26 overall. Greiss spent the majority of the game under extreme duress while doing his best to keep the Islanders hanging around as long as he could.
Greiss started in place of Jaroslav Halak, who was placed on injured reserve with an upper body injury early Sunday. Kyle Okposo, the Islanders’ leading scorer, returned after missing two games with a lower-body injury.
Nikolay Kulemin got the Islanders on the board when he deflected a shot from Nick Leddy from the top of the zone with 7:30 remaining to cut the Maple Leafs’ lead to 2-1.
But in what seemed to be a combination of offensive bad luck and flashes of brilliance by Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier, scoring was hard to come by. The Isles had quality looks that hit posts, crossbars and the glove or pad of Bernier making athletic stops.
Toronto’s James Van Riemsdyk scored an empty-netter with 45 seconds remaining for the final margin.
The Islanders split their short two-game homestand during the holiday week and will begin a three-game road trip in Toronto Tuesday at 7 p.m. Sunday’s sellout was the team’s third of the season.