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Streak ends, but Isles not ‘freaking out’

Florida Stops New York’s Season-High 10-Game Points Run

December 16, 2015 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Jaroslav Halak grimaces under his mask as the Florida Panthers celebrate one of their three second-period goals during a 5-1 win over the Islanders at Downtown’s Barclays Center on Tuesday night. AP photo
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Jaroslav Halak had his worst night of the season and John Tavares didn’t put a single shot on goal.

That proved to be the recipe for the New York Islanders’ first regulation loss in 11 games Tuesday, a 5-1 defeat to the visiting Florida Panthers in front of 13,656 disappointed fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

New York (18-9-5, 41 points) had gone a season-best 8-0-2 in its previous 10 contests, and started up Tuesday like it was eager to continue its steady ascent up the Metropolitan Division standings.

The Islanders outshot the Panthers (15-12-4, 34 points), 19-2, over the opening 20 minutes, but entered the first intermission in a scoreless deadlock after failing to sneak a puck past former Islanders netminder Roberto Luongo, who finished the game with 33 saves.

Florida struck three times in the second period against Halak, who entered the contest yielding just over two goals per game for the season.

In all, the Islanders’ top goalie, and the franchise record-holder for wins in a season (38 in 2014-15), surrendered a season high-tying four goals while facing only 16 shots before the Panthers iced the victory on Jonathan Huberdeau’s short-handed empty-netter with 3:43 to play.

Despite suffering their first regulation defeat since a 4-2 loss in Montreal on Nov. 22, the Islanders refused to bow their heads, focusing instead on beginning a new streak Thursday night in Colorado in the opener of a two-game road trip.

“This is as good of a roll that we’ve been on in a long time,” noted Isles defenseman Travis Hamonic. “There’s no reason to freak out. We’ve played some really good hockey as of late. Tonight certainly wasn’t how we drew it up, but we move forward.”

“It’s not the way you expect the streak to end,” added Frans Nielsen.

Brock Nelson netted New York’s lone goal of the evening, his 10th of the year, off assists from Marek Zidlicky and Mikhail Grabovski at 12:37 of the second period to draw the Isles within 2-1.

Unfortunately, the Panthers struck back just 20 seconds later on a tally from Aaron Eckblad, silencing the crowd that had finally snapped back to life only moments earlier.

“We get the goal, and then we gave up that third right back, which hurt us,” said Isles head coach Jack Capuano.

New York has not dropped consecutive games since before Thanksgiving, using its recently snapped streak to climb within three points of first-place Washington in the tightly packed Metropolitan standings.

The Rangers moved a point ahead of the Isles into second place with their 4-2 victory over Edmonton on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

“Losing stinks, always does,” noted Nielsen. “We can’t be happy just because we had 10 in a row with points, we have high expectations of ourselves every night.”

Tavares, who failed to challenge Luongo despite a team-high 23 minutes of ice time, has managed just one goal over the Isles’ past six games, and is without an assist in his last 10 contests.

That uncharacteristic lack of production from one of the best players in the league speaks to how well New York played as a unit during this season-high run.

It may also point to better days ahead for Tavares and the Isles as they continue to pursue a coveted division title and their first playoff series win since 1993.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job here lately of setting ourselves up to play Islander hockey,” Hamonic reiterated. “We’re not going to get down.”

Isle Have Another: F Ryan Strome returned to the ice Tuesday after missing Sunday’s 4-0 home blanking of New Jersey with an upper-body injury. Strome had one shot on goal and registered a minus-2 rating during 16 1/2 minutes of ice time … Halak, who suffered his first loss between the pipes since Nov. 12 at Los Angeles, had not yielded four goals in a game since Oct. 23 vs. Boston. But Capuano insisted that he had no qualms about leaving his No. 1 in net despite the rough night. “I’m sure he’d like to have a few of those back,” Capuano said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. We just have to rebound.” … Following their visit to Colorado on Thursday, the Isles will travel to Arizona on Saturday before returning Downtown to host Anaheim on Monday … Luongo was the Isles’ first-round pick in the 1997 NHL Draft, but was traded to Florida in 2000 after New York selected goalie Rick DiPietro with the first overall pick in that year’s draft. He also played for Vancouver from 2006-14 before returning to the Panthers.


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