Maple Leafs vs. Islanders observations: Pierre Engvall’s late goal sweeps season series

Is it ironic or expected that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first game coming off of the All-Star break would be so similar to losses they’ve had in the past? The opening 10 minutes of the eventual 3-2 Toronto loss to New York were quick-paced and electric at times with both teams getting their looks and both goaltenders making saves to keep the score at an even 0-0. Mat Barzal broke the seal in the second half of the first while Mitch Marner answered for the Leafs 50 seconds into the middle frame. It wouldn’t be a Leafs game without the Bingo Board coming into effect, and Kyle MacLean punched his ticket on it, scoring his first NHL goal out of the penalty box.

The ice tilted in the third, with Toronto throwing 15 shots on net. John Tavares was finally rewarded on the power play, but before the Leafs could settle into the idea of overtime, former teammate Pierre Engvall ended a goal slump of his own. It was the sixth of the season, with 2:02 left in regulation to win the game. The Leafs missed out on a chance to get back into a divisional spot, while the New York Islanders shortened the gap as they’re only four points out of a wild-card spot.

Welcome to the second half of the season everyone.

Three stars

1. John Tavares

Easily the Leafs’ best forward on the ice. Tavares had three scoring chances on his own in the first period, and even though his overall faceoff percentage wasn’t good (38.9 percent), two of his wins led directly to goals.

2. Mitch Marner 

In a game where Ilya Sorokin looked impenetrable at times, Marner made him look human. His 21st makes it three games in a row with a goal.

3. Simon Benoit

I’m not sure whether his “hit” on Barzal was worthy of a fight, but it was a fair trade-off with Bo Horvat being the opponent. His block on the penalty kill also looked like it stung, but it was worth it.

New PK lines

William Nylander and Auston Matthews saw a lot more penalty-kill time with David Kämpf and Calle Järnkrok out of the lineup. The Islanders didn’t score on either opportunity and Nylander’s three faceoff wins helped keep their possession time to a minimum. Marner was a team warrior short-handed, playing the most of any Leaf with a total of 2:52.

Second line storm

The shots and shot attempts were 7-2 and 14-3, respectively, at five-on-five by the end of the second period. The Islanders had more looks by the final buzzer but they still held the edge in both categories (8-5 and 18-10).

They did everything but score and it was getting to the point where Tyler Bertuzzi’s luck was extended out to his two linemates. Nylander had two solid looks in the second while Tavares was stacking in-tight scoring chances one after the other. And although they were not nearly as dominant, the newly formed fourth line of Ryan Reaves–Pontus Holmberg–Bobby McMann had a strong push for the tying goal in the middle frame.

Sammy should still be smiling

The consistency is still there for Samsonov, and he answered the bell to give the Leafs a chance to stay in the battle. The Islanders loaded up on rush chances and some deflections (both of the friend and foe kind) wound up getting trapped underneath his pad.

The two goals against weren’t perfect performances by any means, and the first was a case of bad luck with the shot off the post coming out right to Barzal in the slot. I would’ve liked to see him wait MacLean out a bit more ahead of his goal, but there were other factors involved there. Samsonov was called upon a lot with how well Barzal played and how much Patrick Roy used his line. This is a game the Leafs cannot and should not hold on their goaltender.

The moments

It came down to moments. Moments of momentum that led to chances. Moments of momentum that led to goals for. Unfortunately, moments of momentum led to goals against them. Again, Mike Reilly’s shot going off the post and popping right out to Barzal is bad luck, but there is a lot of open ice for him to work with and no one close by to stop him. MacLean’s penalty box breakaway starts with Matthews losing the puck a number of times in the offensive zone while Cal Clutterbuck gets the puck past Timothy Liljegren as the penalty box door opens.

Engvall’s game-winner was completely preventable. Brock Nelson stops Morgan Rielly’s clear attempt and sends it to the other corner for Kyle Palmieri. Rielly is by the front of the net at this point, and Engvall sneaks in from behind him and gets the rebound to score.

Those are the moments. Tying the game late doesn’t hold any significance if it’s going to be virtually wasted minutes later.

Game Score

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Final grade: B

There’s always a “but.” The Leafs got a lot of shots and scoring chances, but they didn’t score. You can expect that to change with players like Matthews, Nylander and even Nick Robertson with the way he’s been playing as of late. Bertuzzi, on the other hand, needs something to go his way. It’s February and too late in the year to take solace in moral victories, and as I mentioned after their win against the Winnipeg Jets, the standings aren’t going anywhere. Teams are catching up, and the Leafs are letting them. Sure there have been games where the opposition has outmatched them, but for the majority of the season, it comes down to a mistake here and an error there that cost the Leafs the game. It happened tonight, and it’s made their home record worse (11-10-2).

What’s next for the Leafs?

The Leafs welcome the Dallas Stars to Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday (7:00 p.m. ET) which looks to be another chapter in the battle of the Robertson brothers.

(Photo: Chris Tanouye / Getty Images)

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