TORONTO (AP) — Jonas Gustavsson has repaid the Toronto Maple Leafs’ faith in him by putting up one of the finest months of his career.
Gustavsson made 25 saves for his third shutout in January, and the Maple Leafs beat the New York Islanders 3-0 on Monday night in the first game of a home-and-home series.
“He should have four,” said Toronto coach Ron Wilson, referring to a soft goal Gustavsson let in during the Leafs’ 4-1 win against Minnesota on Thursday.
Gustavsson has started nine of Toronto’s past 10 games, and will probably get the nod again on Tuesday when the Maple Leafs visit the Islanders.
“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 in a while,” Wilson said.
Gustavsson is 6-3 in January for the Maple Leafs, who are struggling 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 added a goal to help Toronto (24-19-5) move into an eighth-place tie with the idle Washington Capitals in the East.
The Leafs stopped Islanders forward John Tavares’ 12-game point streak — the longest run in the NHL this season — and snapped a three-game winning streak for New York (19-22-6).
Tavares notched eight goals and 13 assists during his spurt, and helped the Islanders to an 8-4 mark.
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 still looked dangerous tonight,” Lupul said. “Again we’re going to have to shut him down (Tuesday).”
The Maple Leafs, who had lost four of five, played aggressively and outshot New York 35-25. The team was criticized for casually accepting its 3-1 loss to Montreal at home on Saturday.
The Leafs came out strong on Monday, outshooting the Islanders 16-5 in the first period.
“They jumped on us,” Islanders forward Matt Moulson said. “(Goalie Evgeni Nabokov) kept us in until the end. With the start we had we didn’t deserve to win that game.”
Tavares says the Islanders’ lack of jump early 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 made it 3-0 with just over three minutes left when he ripped a hard wrist shot past Nabokov.
Wilson says his confidence in Lombardi is growing as the forward finds his game and earns more ice time.
“You just see it,” Wilson said. “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.”
Kessel doubled the lead at 8:10 of the third period when charging winger Lupul fired a wrist shot from the right circle that caromed off Nabokov’s pads to Kessel’s waiting stick for his team-leading 26th goal.
The Maple Leafs All-Star had only two points in his previous six games.
Gustavsson wasn’t called upon much in the second period until only four minutes remained. He made several big stops on the Islanders’ top line, including an close-range shot by Tavares. The Islanders recorded only six shots in the period.
Gustavsson was forced into action in the third when the Islanders stepped up their offense and had 14 shots.
Toronto jumped out to 1-0 lead 1:37 in when Lombardi’s slap shot rebounded off Nabokov and seemed to be put into the net by a streaking Nazem Kadri. However, a review later credited Lombardi with the goal, giving him three in two games.
Nabokov, who came into the game having allowed only four goals in four games, was solid in the first period as the Leafs dominated and held a 16-5 shots advantage. Nabokov was selected as the NHL’s third star of last week.
Toronto has played nine of its last 10 at home and will play its next two games on the road — starting Tuesday on Long Island and finishing after the All-Star break on Jan. 31 at Pittsburgh.
NOTES: Toronto defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and forward 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 defenseman John-Michael Liles (concussion), forward Colby Armstrong (concussions), forward Jay Rosehill (scratched), defenseman Keith Aulie (scratched), and Darryl Boyce (back). … The Islanders were without goalie Rick DiPietro (sports hernia), defenseman Steve Staios (scratched), defenseman Mike Mottau (concussion) and center Marty Reasoner (hand).
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)