Leafs let the air out

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Perhaps there was too much rum in the Christmas grog this year, because the Maple Leafs looked extremely groggy at times last night at the Nassau County Coliseum.

Following arguably their worst performance of the season -- an 8-2 loss to the Dallas Stars last Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre -- the Leafs returned from the Christmas break and suffered perhaps their worst loss of the year, a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the New York Islanders, a team that hadn't won in 10 games.

There were any number of reasons for the loss. Goalie Vesa Toskala put his team behind the 8-ball, on New York's second shot of the game, when he deflected a high centring pass by Kyle Okposo into his own net for a 1-0 Islanders lead.

It's hard to get on a roll when your starting goaltender allows such questionable goals, although, in Toskala's defence, the final three New York tallies last night came via the deflection or the rebound.

"It's not a good goal to give up, but I don't think it affected the rest of the game," head coach Ron Wilson said of Okposo's opener. "We weren't very good in the first 10 minutes. In the second 10 minutes of the first period, we started to play our game and generally throughout most of the second period. But, when that power play didn't click early in the third period, it just seemed like all the air went out of our balloon."

Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, meanwhile, returned from a long injury layoff and was, if not spectacular, solid enough that the 15,173 on hand -- starved for anything resembling a win -- enthusiastically began chanting "DP! DP!"

There were other problems, too. The Leafs failed to click on four power-play chances, and scrambled madly about at times in their own end.

"We were sloppy and we turned the puck over too much, but we did have chances and could have taken control in the second if we had scored on the power play and had gotten a lead," centre Matt Stajan said.

"It's lot easier to play with the lead, especially in a situation like this where there is bad ice and both teams are coming off a short layoff."

Veteran winger Bill Guerin scored two for the Islanders, including the winner in the second period, giving him 400 in his long NHL career.

"That's a tremendous milestone. Billy is a great guy and he's done a lot for the game," said Wilson, who has coached Guerin on Team USA. "He's played hard for a long, long time. He's one of my favourite people in the game."

Defenceman Freddy Meyer scored the other for New York while Lee Stempniak's first-period goal tied it 1-1. The struggling Leafs winger, with just one goal in his previous 14 games, backhanded a rebound past DiPietro on a point shot from Jaime Sifers.

Wilson, in an obvious attempt to get Stempniak going, gave him some additional power-play time last night.

The Leafs, meanwhile, now have scored just three goals in their past two games -- this, after scoring 18 in the previous three -- which says a much about the inexperience of this club.


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