A devastating storm prepared to wreak havoc in Brooklyn thusly blew through the area late Monday, but its name wasn’t Stella. It was a hurricane originating from Carolina with goals serving as its main path of destruction and a reminder that the postseason is no certainty.
The Carolina Hurricanes are a team that appeared on the verge of breaking into contention the past two seasons with a promising young defense. But few thought that day would arrive against the upstart Islanders in Monday’s 8-4 victory, where the defense made all of its contributions on the opposing side of the puck, headlined by Jaccob Slavin’s first career hat trick.
“I don’t know if we were worse with or without the puck in the neutral zone,” Islanders interim head coach Doug Weight said. “We let them fly up the ice untouched. Nobody was in position to make a play. Most teams try to play fast and use their speed.”
On the heels of an impressive 5-3-1 showing on their franchise-high nine-game road trip, the Isles returned home looking to gain ground in their playoff aspirations, but two Hurricanes goals by Slavin and Joakim Nordstrom 26 seconds apart in the first period, erased an early 1-0 lead and indicated that the Hurricanes would control the game’s tempo and move the puck with ease.
“It looked like a pretty even game after the first period, but they (the Hurricanes) took it to us in the second period,” Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. “We got behind a couple, but I don’t think we got off to a bad start. We just have to do a better job collectively as a group and push back.”
The push by Carolina had its strongest effect during a four-goal second period, which chased goaltender J-F Berube from the game following a Jeff Skinner goal at the 8:02 mark of the stanza. Berube allowed four goals on 13 shot attempts before Thomas Greiss entered the game in relief. The Hurricanes quickly greeted Greiss 56 seconds later on Justin Faulk’s second goal of the period. Slavin’s shorthanded goal at 11:45 put the Islanders in a precarious spot with six goals surrendered in less than 30 minutes of play.
“I approached this game the same way as I approach every game,” Berube said. “Obviously when you don’t play a lot and start getting scored on, goals that you usually stop stay a little longer in your head. I felt good and can be a good goalie. I just need to find my game.”
“We weren’t as clean coming out of our own end and we weren’t winning as many battles,” Islanders captain John Tavares said. “This was certainly disappointing at this point in the season, especially since each game is crucial for us.”
Typically known for his shot blocking prowess and takeaways on the defensive end, Slavin had a career-game offensively and finalized a hat trick on Carolina’s eighth goal midway through the third period, beating Greiss through the five-hole. Slavin, who entered Monday’s game scoring just two goals for the season, nearly tripled his output. Hurricanes defenseman uncharacteristically collected eight points for the evening, but know that their play in their own zone remains vital.
“We are a fast team and we can get pucks behind the D, we can control the play,” Slavin said. Obviously, it was a high scoring game and we need to tighten up on the defensive end from our side and play to our strengths. We try to play sound defensively and then the offensive opportunities will keep coming.”
After experiencing success playing aggressive defensive hockey in recent weeks, the Islanders were unable to limit opposing chances and make key the adjustments which served them well in previous games. Although fatigue is a possible culprit, the Isles are in the midst of playing three games in four days, including the second of back-to-back games against Carolina on Tuesday night.
“Whether it was fatigue or not, the decisions, you got to set them prior to the game and get pucks in,” Weight said. “Goaltenders included. There is no hiding this one, that’s for sure. Veterans looked tired. A couple of young guys looked fresh, but aside from that, everybody was awful.”
With Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the race for the final playoff spot becomes muddled with four teams separated by six points and the Isles tied with Tampa Bay, one point behind Toronto with 14 games remaining. As the regular season enters its climax, the Islanders will look to learn from their defensive lapses in Monday’s loss against Carolina and rediscover their recent success.