The Islanders 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals was too familiar for head coach Jack Capuano. For the second straight game, the Islanders were all even at 2-2 after 40 minutes and had a chance to beat a division rival they need to catch up to if they want to get back in the playoff hunt. For the second straight game, they fell short due to defensive breakdowns and poor penalty killing and once again they lost the hockey game.
This time, both goals were scored by Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. On the first one, three Islanders were caught behind the goal line and all five gravitated to the same side of the ice. The result was that Niskanen had a lot of room and a lot of time to deliver a hard shot that beat goalie Jaroslav Halak and went just under the cross bar.
Then, after Travis Hamonic took an untimely penalty with just over three minutes left, Niskanen took advantage of the Isles inconsistent penalty killing to beat Halak again and clinch a 4-2 win for the Caps. It was the second power play goal allowed by the Islanders in this game in just three chances while the Isles power play went 0-for-2.
The Isles had led 1-0 on Brock Nelson’s seventh goal of the year and tied the game 2-2 midway through the second period on a goal by Nikolay Kulemin. Despite some quality scoring chances, however, the Isles were unable to get the tying goal before giving up the late power play tally.
While head coach Jack Capuano is usually reluctant to call out his team to the press, he did so after tonight’s game without naming specific players. The coach did say, “I’m losing my patience with some of the guys. You have to hold guys accountable as players and as a team,” Capuano said. “I’m just talking about confidence and poise.”
According to Capuano, work ethic is not the issue. “Some guys are working hard but they aren’t working smart,” the coach added. “When you work, there’s got to be a method to how you go about your business…There are guys who drive the analytics the way you want to drive them and there are guys who drive them down. You’ve got to try to find a way to get some confidence and poise in those guys and try to get them to be successful.”
It isn’t too hard to figure out who Capuano is likely talking about. He went out of his way to praise John Tavares and his linemates which tonight included Josh Bailey and either Anders Lee or Brock Nelson.
But players like Ryan Strome, who finds himself benched periodically, or Andrew Ladd who was a minus-two and all but invisible with zero shots on goal and zero hits, have to be near the top of the list.
Capuano hinted after the game that his patience was running out with some players and that some lineup changes or even perhaps roster changes may be in the cards in the near future.
Right now, the Islanders need another jolt to regain the form they showed the past two seasons when they finished with 100-plus points and made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. This year’s team is clearly lacking something, and now is 12 points behind in the race for the playoffs despite playing 18 of its first 28 games at home. Even with their recent 5-0-1 streak, the team gained precious little ground in the standings. Now two straight losses that involved decisively losing tie games in the third period has taken the team back to earth.
These are trying times for the Islanders. They know there is precious little room for error.
“We’re in a situation where we can’t afford to lose to many games in a row,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said after the loss to the Caps. “I think we played a decent game, but we just had a couple of little breakdowns that cost us the game in the end.”
Unfortunately for the Islanders, they were the same “little breakdowns,” and if they aren’t corrected in the very near future, this season will be all but over before it even reaches the halfway mark.