It was the same old story for the New York Islanders Wednesday night in their 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers at the Barclays Center: an inconsistent effort, a failure to play a complete 60-minute game and a game when not all 20 players were pulling their weight.
The entire locker room had a sullen feeling of deja vu while dissecting another frustrating loss that the team clearly felt they could have won and desperately needed to win.
The first familiar problem for the Isles was a lack of offense. When the team scores three goals or more in a game this season, they are 14-3-2. But when they fail to reach the magic three-goal mark, they are now just 1-13-6. But Wednesday night’s game marked the third consecutive game the Isles managed to score just once. It also was their third straight 2-1 loss.
“We’ve got to find a way to score some goals and get a win,” captain John Tavares said after the game.
Offense wasn’t the only problem for the Isles. Defenseman Nick Leddy saw problems all over the ice. “We had a tough time in the neutral zone tonight and we need to get back to just keeping it simple.”
Inconsistency remains the Islanders biggest problem. The team always seems to play 30-45 minutes of good hockey in each game, but a few stretches of poor, mistake-laden play are enough to undermine the team’s potential success.
Tonight, it was the opening seven minutes of the game and most of the second period that was the Isles’ undoing. The Panthers clearly had the better of the play early and cashed in on Keith Yandle’s goal at 5:47. The goal came on a long rebound and the frustrating thing was that two different Islanders defenders had an opportunity to clear the puck but failed to do so. Yandle was able to cash in.
In the second period, the Islanders were dominated and outshot 16-6. Some quality saves by Thomas Greiss kept the game close, but Jason Demers scored what proved to be the game-winning tally just 1:09 into the middle stanza.
“It was probably the worst second period that we played all year,” head coach Jack Capuano admitted. “We had no rhythm, no execution. Certain guys should have stayed in the room. It was bad…We had some guys taking off and they were non-factors in the game.”
Capuano then called out some veterans and rookies alike without naming names to the media. “We signed some guys for reasons,” the coach added. “We want to give those guys an opportunity. There are some other guys, too. You can say some of the veteran guys but there are some young guys…they were non-factors in this game.”
Perhaps more disappointing is the fact that the Isles were flat for long stretches of a game that could have really helped them move up in the standings. This was the first of four consecutive contests against the teams the Isles need to pass in order to get back into the playoff hunt.
Capuano was clearly disappointed with his team’s lack of killer instinct. “You’ve got to come to the rink and be a difference-maker,” he said. “If you don’t have that mindset to be a difference maker knowing it’s a crucial time with games in hand and you play like you played tonight, then you’re in the wrong profession as an athlete.”
The problem for the Islanders is that the team is now nearly halfway through this season (39 games played) and they have yet to find that consistent, 60-minute effort in more than a handful of games. The Isles are still last in the Eastern Conference and remain 10 points behind Philadelphia in the race for the final playoff spot in the tough Metropolitan Division. The Islanders do still have four games in hand on the Flyers, but unless they win the majority of those contests, it will do them little good. In addition to Philadelphia, they also have to pass and stay ahead of Carolina and New Jersey plus five teams in the Atlantic Division if they hope to qualify for the postseason.
Unless the Isles make corrections and play better hockey soon, 2016-17 will go down as a year of disappointment and underachievement for this franchise.