TORONTO – Jonas Gustavsson has repaid the Toronto Maple Leafs’ faith in his goaltending with one of the finest months of his career.
Gustavsson made 25 saves for his third shutout in January as Toronto blanked the New York Islanders 3-0 on Monday in the first game of a home-and-home series.
“He should have four,” said Toronto head coach Ron Wilson, referring to a soft goal Gustavsson let in during the Leafs’ 4-1 win against Minnesota on Thursday.
Gustavsson has grabbed the reins with nine starts in Toronto’s last 10 games and Wilson says it’s probable he’ll be in net for Tuesday’s rematch in Uniondale, N.Y.
“We did a good job in front of him and he’s been there when we need him to make a big save every once and awhile,” Wilson said.
Gustavsson has a record of 6-3 this month as the Maple Leafs struggle to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. He hasn’t had a run of success like this since he won seven games in a row in March 2010.
Matthew Lombardi scored twice and Phil Kessel also scored to help Toronto (24-19-5) move into an eighth-place tie with the idle Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference standings at 53 points.
The Leafs held red-hot Islanders forward John Tavares off the scoresheet and snapped a three-game win streak for New York (19-22-6).
Tavares came into the game with eight goals and 13 assists during a 12-game scoring streak. New York went 8-4-0 over that span.
Leafs all-star Joffrey Lupul said shutting down Tavares was something the team discussed before the game.
“He’s obviously been on a pretty good streak lately, and he’s still looked dangerous tonight,” Lupul said. “Again we’re going to have to shut him down tomorrow.”
The Maple Leafs, who had lost four of their last five, played aggressively and outshot New York 35-25. They were criticized for taking defeat to casually after a 3-1 loss to rival Montreal at home on Saturday.
The Leafs came out strong Monday, outshooting the Islanders 16-5 in the first period.
Tavares says his team’s lack of jump early in the game was something they never recovered from.
“We just didn’t establish our game and really do the things we wanted to execute against them,” he said. “It was real tough for us to get back in the game and try and gain some momentum. Obviously, we didn’t do enough to even draw a penalty.”
Lombardi scored an insurance goal to make it 3-0 with just over three minutes left to play when he blasted a hard wrist shot that blew past Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov.
Kessel doubled the lead at 8:10 of third when Lupul fired a wrist shot from the right face-off circle that caromed off Nabokov’s pads and right to Kessel’s waiting stick for his team-leading 26th goal of the season.
The Leafs all-star sniper had been a bit cold lately with only two points in his last six games coming into Monday.
Kessel had chance earlier in the third when skated in alone past defenceman Andrew MacDonald and fired a shot just wide of Nabokov on the stick-side.
Gustavsson wasn’t called upon much in the second until there were only four minutes remaining in the period. He made several big stops on the Islanders’ top line, including an close-range shot by Tavares. The Islanders fired just six shots in the period, with most of the action in New York’s end.
“They jumped on us,” said Islanders forward Matt Moulson. “Nabby kept us in until the end. With the start we had we didn’t deserve to win that game.”
Toronto jumped out to 1-0 lead just over 90 seconds into the game when Lombardi’s slapshot rebounded off Nabokov and seemed to be slid into the net by a streaking Nazem Kadri. However, a review later credited Lombardi with the goal.
Lombardi has three goals in his last two games, and four in his last four.
Wilson says his confidence in Lombardi is growing as the forward finds his game and earns more ice time.
“You just see it … that’s the sense you have, the gut feeling as a coach. I could see that coming and that’s a real positive as we go forward that I have a weapon there, and he’s feeling real good about himself.”
Nabokov, who came into the game having allowed only four goals in four games, was solid in the first period as the Leafs dominated early and set the pace with Lombardi’s goal.
“We came out real strong in the first, did what we wanted to do—get pucks at the net,’ said Lombardi. “We got a good bounce there and got the momentum going.”
Toronto has played nine of its last 10 games at Air Canada Centre and will play its next two games on the road starting Tuesday in Long Island, andfinishing after the all-star break on Jan. 31 in Pittsburgh.
Notes: Toronto defenceman Carl Gunnarsson and winger Joey Crabb exchanged punches during a practice Sunday. The confrontation was said to be a result of players not showing enough emotion in the Leafs 3-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday. … Toronto has gone 10 consecutive games without allowing a power-play goal. … The Maple Leafs were missing defenceman John-Michael Liles (concussion), winger Colby Armstrong (concussions), forward Jay Rosehill (scratched), defenceman Keith Aulie (scratched), and Darryl Boyce (back). … The Islanders were without goalie Rick DiPietro (sports hernia), defenceman Steve Staios (scratched), defenceman Mike Mottau (concussion) and centre Marty Reasoner (hand). … Canadian crooner Michael Buble was in attendance. … Announced attendance was 19,570.