Leafs missing the point

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

UNIONDALE N.Y. -- If the Maple Leafs can't outright beat teams just a couple of notches above American Hockey League calibre, they don't deserve to make the National Hockey League playoffs.

The Leafs did salvage a point last night against the New York Islanders, but missed far too many chances to bury them in a 2-1 shootout loss at the Nassau Coliseum. Mats Sundin, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Darcy Tucker were all stopped by Rick DiPietro, with Miro Satan beating Ed Belfour on the first shot for the eventual winner.

The Leafs are now 2-5 in shootouts.

With the Atlanta Thrashers losing, the Leafs inched to within four points of ninth place in the Eastern Conference and seven behind Montreal, which holds the eighth and final post-season berth.

But for the second time in five games since the Olympic break ended, Toronto couldn't subdue a bottom feeder team -- one that just lost four regulars at the trade deadline. Adding insult to injury, the Isles are now tied with them at 62 points.

The Leafs, 1-4 since the break, received sharp goaltending from Belfour and strong efforts from some quarters of a reshuffled lineup that included recycled defenceman Luke Richardson, rookie winger Ben Ondrus and, for just the second time in 10 years, healthy scratch Tie Domi.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out we have three guys who haven't been strong for us," coach Pat Quinn said, likely speaking of Domi, Jeff O'Neill and Nik Antropov. "So we're looking around for more strength. We just figured we'd make a change, put Ondrus in to give us a little more speed.

"I didn't expect Tie to like it. He's a proud guy. The decision wasn't made lightly."

The Leafs couldn't capitalize despite pressuring New York into several mistakes. They outshot the Isles 27-23, forcing DiPietro to make his own key saves before a crowd of 12,425.

"We worked hard at it tonight, but couldn't bury it," Tucker said. "The ice was horrible, the puck was bouncing and that was indicative of the score."

Toronto stumbled through a 5-on-3 in the first period with just one shot, opened the scoring on a deflected goal from Bryan McCabe early in the second, but were 1-for-8 overall on the power play, once their ticket to a playoff spot. McCabe missed a great feed from Sundin to end the game in overtime, while the captain also set up Alexei Ponikarovsky late in the third -- and watched him fan on it.

Sundin was obviously not pleased to see Domi singled out, but held his tongue.

"The way we've been playing, any of us could have sat out," Sundin said.

"We want to see him back in the lineup and I'm sure he'll work hard to get back in."

Robert Nilsson had the New York goal at 11:25 of the second just as a two-man advantage ended.

Before the game, interim Islanders coach Brad Shaw was succinct about his team's playoff chances.

"At times we've looked good, at times we've laid a few eggs," he said. "We have a long way to go. You talk about the bright light at the end of the tunnel; we're trying to shorten that tunnel as best we can."

"One line is still intact, Mike York, Trent Hunter and Satan and they've really carried the load for us as far as good two-way hockey goes. Our best defenceman, Alexei Zhitnik, is still here and might log a few more minutes now. And when we've won games, Rick has often our best player. So a lot of the components are still here.

"We want to be the hardest-working team every night, but we still haven't really established that."

REPORT CARD

C- Forwards: They completely gummed up an early 5-on-3 and over-handled the puck on other promising scoring chances.

C Defence: Luke Richardson had a good debut and Bryan McCabe supplied a power-play goal.

B Goaltending: Belfour played the kind of game that used to steal the Leafs points, withstanding an early barrage.


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