Auston Matthews remains hot, but climate change on the schedule cooled the Maple Leafs on Long Island.
Though Matthews added two to his NHL-leading goal scroll of 33, the big boy New York Islanders proved a lot harder to break than a couple of clubs Toronto had swamped in its four-game win streak.
A season-high fifth was denied when Mat Barzal clicked 21 seconds into extra play for the 74-3 win after Matthews had briefly provided a two-goal lead.
“It was a difficult night for sure,” Toronto goalie Martin Jones told media on Long Island, after his sixth straight start. “(New York) play hard, they forecheck hard, they’re big and physical and really play well in front of the net.”
After twice slapping around the San Jose Sharks as part of their run, the Leafs opened a tougher stretch of 11 games almost all against current playoff teams or wildcards. The Isles, who dropped four of five games before Thursday, were without one of their most belligerent forwards in crusher Casey Cizikas, but cashed twice on the power play and often wore out the Leafs with lengthy forechecking shifts.
“It started with special teams,” lamented Matthews. “One power play for us (no shots), they make good on two of theirs (beginning with the first minute of play with himself serving a rare penalty).”
Matthews’ pair came in a span of 2:14 early in the middle period, a big hit behind the net to shake the puck loose and take a Mitch Marner feed, his second after third line checker Pontus Holmberg stayed out to force a turnover.
Matthews’ 70th multi-goal game put him one behind Darryl Sittler in that franchise category and in a tie for fourth overall in goals with Ron Ellis at 332. In the 7-1 win at home over the Sharks on Tuesday, Marner had passed Frank Mahovlich for seventh in all-time points.
“It means a lot, starting out together, through our ups and downs,” Matthews said of their combined milestones. “This is our eighth season and it’s nice to be mentioned with some of the greats. But in the end, we’re trying to win a championship.”
Recommended from Editorial
Ilya Samsonov recalled, Maple Leafs will continue to approach his situation slowly
Veteran executive Pelley to take over as MLSE boss, sources confirm
After Matthews tripped burly former teammate Matt Martin, an unguarded Kyle Palmieri was perfectly positioned at the door when Jones misdirected a blocker rebound.
There were a couple of other minor misplays by Jones among the 30 shots he faced, though he’d been the catalyst of better team defensive work of late with the four wins and his prior .934 save percentage.
Barzal and offensive defenceman Noah Dobson completed four-point evenings on the winner. That goal, bringing the Leafs to 8-8 in the most overtime/shootout games by any team this season, saw Jake McCabe’s pass miss sending away Matthews and Marner, becoming an icing which the Isles’ duo exploited.
After one impressive New York push hemmed Toronto in its zone for 45 seconds with a couple of close calls, the fourth line snapped the Leafs back to attention. Noah Gregor dished to Bobby McMann for his second of the season.
“Bob comes in every single day and works his ass off and it shows when he’s on the ice,” Marner said of his long road to the NHL. “He has unbelievable speed and makes great plays when he gets the puck. That line (with cenre David Kampf) do a lot of grinding for us as well.”
Switching to cruise control a little too early after Matthews’ double dip, the Leafs backed off to allow Alexander Romanov a lane to beat Jones high and then Mark Giordano didn’t clear despite having full puck possession, which turned into Bo Horvat’s 17th on a tip.
For the first time since Dec. 29, Ilya Samsonov was in uniform, backing up Jones in a recall from the Marlies. His return from an extended skid could be just a couple of days, depending how the weekend back-to-back home assignments are doled out to Jones and perhaps rookie Dennis Hildeby, versus Colorado and Detroit.
Former Islanders captain John Tavares heard plenty of boos once again at UBS Arena, going on six years since leaving for his hometown team. After getting his 1,000th NHL point last time the Leafs were here, also a 4-3 overtime loss, Tavares and Leaf leading points producer William Nylander were both blanked.