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Near-miss costs Isles successful western trip

October 18, 2017 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Jaroslav Halak was unable to stop this go-ahead, second-period power play goal in Los Angeles Sunday night as the Islanders completed their California trip with a 1-2 record. AP Photo by Reed Saxon

Prepare to Visit Arch Rival Rangers Thursday Night at MSG

“The inches we need are all around us,” Oscar-winning actor Al Pacino said during his impassioned locker room speech in the 1999 Oliver Stone football film “Any Given Sunday.”

The New York Islanders learned a thing or two about how important a role a single inch can play during their early-season swing through California, especially in Sunday night’s 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

Down a goal with 20 seconds to play, team captain John Tavares had the puck on his stick and a partially unprotected net in front of him, but just misfired on his potential game-tying shot through the crease, leaving New York (2-3-1) to lament a 1-2 trip instead of the winning one it was hoping for.

The puck trickled past Los Angeles goalie Darcy Kuemper and slid straight through to the other side of the net, failing to go past the goal line and give the Isles the equalizer they had been seeking since Casey Cizikas pulled them within a single score following his third goal of the season with 5:40 left in regulation.

“I just missed it,” Tavares lamented afterward.

“Obviously it’s the end of the game and the ice isn’t as good. But I’d like to think I can get that one in. It’s a missed opportunity.”

It was the Isles’ third one-goal loss in the past four games, including a 3-2 setback in Anaheim on Oct. 11 to begin the trip.

New York did pick up two big points by gutting out a 3-1 victory in San Jose on Saturday, but didn’t get an opportunity to post its first back-to-back wins of the campaign after Tavares’ bid to force overtime slithered just past the open goal mouth.

With only five points through their first six games, the Isles aren’t exactly bursting out of the gate the way head coach Doug Weight envisioned when he watched his team roll through the preseason with a gaudy 6-0-2 mark.

Last year’s squad meandered through the first half of the season near or at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings before going 24-12-4 once Weight replaced longtime head coach Jack Capuano at the helm.

But the Isles still fell a single point shy of securing their third straight playoff bid and were eager to get off to a fast start in 2017-18.

They’ll have to do more with the chances they get going forward, beginning with Thursday’s showdown at Madison Square Garden against the East River rival New York Rangers.

“Regardless of having good opportunities, we have to start scoring and we have to stop giving up opportunities as well,” Weight said following Sunday’s heartbreaking defeat to the Kings.

“It starts with shooting the puck,” he added. “We have some guys who can fire it. We have to start moving around a little quicker and get some pucks to the net. They’ll go in for us.”

Josh Bailey picked up his second goal of the year in the second period Sunday off assists from rookie Mathew Barzal and veteran winger Andrew Ladd. The tally evened the contest at 1-1 and marked the first career point for Barzal and 500th for Ladd.

Barzal, who was one of New York’s standouts during the preseason, was relieved, but not overly elated to finally get on the scoresheet in his eighth career NHL game.

“It’s nice. You’re just happy for a little bit there, but we were in a tight game, so I wasn’t thinking about it too much,” Barzal said. “Just trying to get another one to tie the game up. I’m sure I’ll look back on it and be happy.” 

Jaroslav Halak made 24 saves for the Isles in Sunday’s loss, but New York went scoreless in two chances with the man advantage, dropping them to 0-for-20 on the power play this season.

Making matters worse, Halak surrendered a short-handed goal in the third period after Los Angeles took the lead for good on Jake Muzzin’s power play tally midway through the second stanza.

“Obviously, the power play has really let us down to this point in the season,” Tavares said. “It’s good sometimes and not at others. We’re just not executing.

“All we can do is wake up tomorrow, find a way to turn the tide and get better.” 

And fight for the inches necessary to make the difference between winning and losing.

Isle Have Another: The Isles have allowed the first goal in five of their first six contests … This marks the first season in which New York has not scored on the power play through its first six games since 1977-78 … Cizikas and Brock Nelson are tied for the team lead with three goals apiece. Tavares scored his only two goals of the campaign in a 6-3 home-opening win over Buffalo on Oct. 7. … Ladd became the 460th player in NHL history to reach the 500-point plateau Sunday night.