TORONTO – Jeckyll morphed into the ugly form of Hyde in a matter of hours for the Leafs on Thursday.
A thorough and calculated road takedown of the Penguins on Wednesday was replaced by a feeble effort at home, a self-destructive 7-4 loss to the Islanders.
"Obviously it's the worst game we played," said Randy Carlyle matter-of-factly after the loss to New York, the second end of a back-to-back set.
"We were out of sync. We were brain-dead, whatever word you want to describe," said Carlyle. "After a certain period in the game, it just seemed like we stopped.
"We had two different teams playing. One that played [Wednesday] night and one that played today were two different ends of the spectrum from an execution standpoint and an energy standpoint and a compete standpoint. We just didn't have it."
Five straight goals from the Islanders erased what had been a 3-1 first period lead, but even that apparent quick start was flawed. Carlyle called it "shinny hockey" and "the start of the way we finished the game". His Leafs lacked physical punch, turned pucks over, failed to skate, sustained little pressure in the offensive zone and ended up with an altogether off-night in goal. They also failed to score on yet another 5-on-3 advantage (0-5 on the powerplay for the night).
"When you go back and look at the tape, I think that we probably got away with one in the first," John-Michael Liles said of a period in which Evgeni Nabakov appeared vulnerable in the visitors' goal. "I don't think we played the kind of hockey we needed to play; we didn't play our brand of hockey and it caught up to us in the second."
"Exactly like Johnnie said," said Carl Gunnarsson, who opened the scoring in the first period. "We got a bit lucky in the first, up 3-1. Talked about [that] we didn't play our game and that was what we were supposed to do in the second and third, but we just kept on playing the same way, didn't work."
"My message is we accept responsibility for the way we played tonight," Carlyle concluded, "but we'll be judged by how we perform on Saturday."
1. Up 3-1 in that misleading opening period, the Leafs had an opportunity nonetheless to effectively bury the Islanders with a 25-second 5-on-3 powerplay. They failed to score. Dion Phaneuf shot wide. Tyler Bozak tipped wide. Mike Kostka missed high. Three subsequent shots from Kostka, Phil Kessel and Cody Franson were stopped. "It usually comes back to haunt you," Carlyle said. "If you don't score on your 5-on-3 at some point in the game, usually the momentum is going to turn in favour of the opposition. They get life from it, it sucks life from your group." The Leafs have scored once in seven 5-on-3 opportunities this season, the lone goal coming from Bozak on Wednesday in the final moments of a 5-2 win in Pittsburgh.
2. With solid performances in his first two starts, Ben Scrivens was far off his game against the Islanders, yanked mercifully in the third period. The 26-year-old allowed five goals on 25 shots, the final pair especially damning – a weak wrist shot from Michael Grabner, followed by a squeaker five-hole from Keith Aucoin – breaking open what had been a tie hockey game. "Ben didn't have it," Carlyle said of Scrivens. "But I don't think a lot of our players had it." Given the uncertainty of the Toronto crease entering the season, it would be easy to look at Thursday's result as the first instance of trouble and it very well may be. But making such a judgment on one performance would be unwise. Only if and when a trend begins to emerge – positive or negative – can the Leafs seriously get a read on their goaltending.
3. Scrivens stopped 39 of 42 shots in two previous starts, solid but unspectacular. His challenge now is remaining level after a bad result. "That's what I was trying to do all along, no matter if we were winning games early on or how I was playing," he said after the loss. "It's a journey. It's the only way you can look at it. You're trying to get better each and every day. This is another learning experience. It's a tough one to swallow, but I'll take what I can from it and get back to work tomorrow."
4. Home ice continues to lack much advantage for the Leafs. Dropping their first two at the Air Canada Centre this season, the Leafs have lost 13 of their last 15 games at home, dating back to February 11th last season.
5. The Leafs announced Thursday morning that Joffrey Lupul would miss up to six weeks with a fractured right forearm, a damaging loss no matter which way you assess it. One of the final two cuts at training camp just a week prior, Matt Frattin was recalled to replace the 29-year-old and placed on a line with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov against the Islanders. "Matt is an offensive player," Carlyle said of Frattin, prior to the game. "He hadn't performed to the level we thought he was capable of and now he's getting another opportunity." With slightly fewer than 12 minutes on Thursday, Frattin scored (with the game already in hand) and also added two assists.
Quote of the Night
"Obviously it's the worst game we played. We were out of sync. We were brain-dead, whatever word you want to describe. After a certain period in the game it just seemed like we stopped."
- Randy Carlyle
Phil Kessel has attempted 20 shots after four games, but remains goalless. Historically a quick starter, the 25-year-old's longest dry spell to start a season was his first in the NHL; back in 2006-2007, Kessel went six games without scoring before breaking through with his first NHL goal against the Sabres.
Stat Watch II
Nazem Kadri hit the scoresheet for the fourth consecutive game, totaling a goal and an assist. The 22-year-old leads the Leafs in scoring with five points in four games.
16:21 – Kadri, his highest total of the season.
With a perfect 2-0 record on the road, the Leafs look to rebound from Thursday's performance when they visit the Rangers at MSG on Saturday.