TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs think they should be the NHL’s last unbeaten team.
Instead, they find themselves with an overtime loss in the standings after John Tavares took advantage of a power play in the extra period to give the New York Islanders a 2-1 victory on Monday.
The game featured three controversial calls and they all went against Toronto. The last one was a goaltender interference penalty to Brett Lebda just 19 seconds before Tavares one-timed a shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere to end the game.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson labelled the penalty in overtime “marginal” and was also disappointed with the two goals the team had called back in regulation.
“A couple calls when completely against us,” said Wilson. “At this point, (it’s) crying over spilled milk. There’s nothing you can do.”
The Toronto players did their best to put a positive spin on a game that saw them score late in the third period to salvage a point—giving them nine of a possible 10 in a surprisingly strong start to the season.
However, there was also a strong hint of frustration.
Kris Versteeg was the first Leafs player to beat Dwayne Roloson, but his goal late in the second period was waived off because he was ruled to have knocked the puck down with a high stick prior to scoring. Replays showed the puck was not above his shoulder.
In the third period, Colby Armstrong appeared to score from behind the net but a lengthy video review showed the puck never crossed the goal-line. What upset the Leafs most is the fact Tavares covered the puck in the crease with his hand at the end of the sequence, but the referees didn’t award them a penalty shot.
“It’s just the way the game goes,” said Lebda. “Everything was a close call today. It was up and down … the refs are doing the best they can and they’re going to make mistakes like we do.”
Added captain Dion Phaneuf: “That’s the league’s job. It’s out of our hands.”
Wilson was much more direct. The veteran coach thought his team deserved a better fate on three calls and described what he didn’t like about each one.
—On Versteeg’s waived off goal: “I find it strange that a linesman behind the play made the call. You’re not really sure if it was a high stick or not, and it wasn’t.”
—On the Armstrong play where Tavares grabbed the puck: “They rule it no goal, but they don’t remember his hand was on the puck.”
—On Lebda’s penalty in overtime: “The call in overtime after clearly I thought they weren’t going to call anything, and that was a marginal call, (especially) after you see (Nikolai) Kulemin get hauled down in the neutral zone off of a faceoff.”
Somewhat lost in the final result was the fact Tavares scored for a second straight game after returning from a minor concussion. He grew up as a Maple Leafs fan and was clearly thrilled to come up big in front of friends and family at Air Canada Centre.
“I just put my head down and tried to shoot it as hard as I could,” said Tavares. “I wasn’t even sure it went in … It was a great feeling.”
Matt Moulson also scored for the Islanders (3-1-2), who are off to a strong start despite injuries to regulars Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo and Trent Hunter. Roloson finished with 29 saves.
Phil Kessel replied for Toronto (4-0-1).
The Leafs entered with an average of four goals a game, but they couldn’t get much going offensively against the stingy Isles. New York seemed content to play a patient game aimed at limiting chances.
However, Toronto still managed more than its fair share. Fredrik Sjostrom had a golden opportunity from in close as the seconds ticked down in the third period and Versteeg shot high and wide on a breakaway in overtime.
“We controlled the game, it wasn’t even close,” said Versteeg.
The Leafs can take some solace in the fact that they put forward another good effort. They’ll continue a pretty favourable start to the schedule with a couple days of practice before hosting the Rangers on Thursday.
By then, the first loss of the season should be well behind them.
“We all know that we’re not going to win them all,” said Giguere. “We’re going to face some challenges and stuff like that. The good thing is I can feel guys are mad, they’re irritated with the loss.”
Said Wilson: “Our guys never gave up. They played really well.”
Notes:Lebda replaced Carl Gunnarsson in the Leafs lineup, making his debut after signing as free agent over the summer … Toronto forward John Mitchell was a healthy scratch for the fifth straight game … The Leafs-Rangers game on Friday night drew 920,000 viewers on Rogers Sportsnet Ontario broadcast—the network’s highest regional hockey audience ever … Announced attendance was 19,086.