The New York Islanders entered Saturday night’s game with the Edmonton Oilers desperate for improved offense from their forwards. Other than John Tavares, the Isles forwards have struggled to put pressure on opposing goalies and the results have been apparent in the standings.
Coach Jack Capuano decided to mix up his lines yet again in an attempt to give his team a spark. Early in the game, the Islanders responded in a big way.
The Isles took seven shots in the first six minutes of the game and jumped to a quick 2-0 lead on goals by Nick Leddy and Shane Prince. Leddy’s goal came just 13 seconds into the game off a pretty pass from Cal Clutterbuck. Clutterbuck was added to the top line along with John Tavares and Josh Bailey. The goal also gave the Islanders a franchise-record eight straight games with a goal by a defenseman.
Shane Prince made it 2-0 at 5:49 as the Islanders continued to put pressure on Oilers starter Cam Talbot. A centering pass deflected off the skate of an Edmonton defender and came straight to Prince in the slot.
The Isles seemed to have the game under control but quickly lost the edge and allowed the Oilers to get back into game. Patrick Maroon deflected a shot from the point by Matthew Benning to make the score 2-1 and then Leon Draisaitl tied the score with a power-play tally at 12:13. The early lead and optimism were gone.
To make things worse, the Isles lost defenseman Travis Hamonic to an injury in the first period. Hamonic did not return and will be examined further by team doctors on Sunday.
The Isles regained the edge early in the second period and took the lead again when Casey Cizikas put home the rebound of a shot by Prince to make the score 3-2.
The Oilers were able to even the score late in the period, however, when Milan Lucic poked home the rebound of a Jordan Eberle shot on a play that saw Johnny Boychuk momentarily shaken up and unable to participate in the play. Boychuk returned but the damage had been done.
The third period was a fairly even affair. The Islanders had more shots but the Oilers had several quality chances. Jaroslav Halak played well enough to keep the score tied and the game went to overtime.
Eberle and Tavares both had breakaway attempts in overtime but could not put home the deciding goal. That sent the game to a shootout where Mark Letestu scored the only goal to give Edmonton a 4-3 win. The Islanders had to settle for one point for the second straight game.
Despite the loss, the Islanders were much happier with their overall play. They got some consistent offensive pressure throughout the game and showed a sense of urgency early on that seemed to be lacking this season. They outshot Edmonton 33-23 and blocked 23 Oiler shots led by Thomas Hickey with eight.
There were still reasons for concern. The Islanders blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in the game and still went through too many stretches where they had trouble clearing the puck out of their own zone.
“I think we possessed the puck and I think our defense played terrific on the back end,” head coach Jack Capuano said after the game. “At the end of the day, we competed. We played a little resilient and played hard and that’s a credit to the guys. If we play like that and work like that and just stay the course, good things will happen.”
The other problem the Isles had came on the penalty kill. After a very hot start, the Isles gave up a pair of power play goals tonight and have now allowed power play goals in five straight games, killing off just 15-of-23 shorthanded situations for a less than stellar 65.2 percent success rate.
Despite the shortcomings, this game was a step forward and the battle level was certainly better up and down the roster.
“We played with some good energy,” Tavares said. “I don’t think we gave them a whole lot. We had some tough breaks on their goals. The game got a little bit sloppy towards the end, but we had our chances.”
The Islanders return to action Monday night when they host the Vancouver Canucks, a team that is 0-7-1 in their last eight contests.