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Slump puts Isles’ playoff hopes in peril

Loss to Philadelphia Extends Season-High Losing Streak to Four

March 22, 2016 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss gave up three goals in Monday night’s critical 4-1 home loss to the surging Philadelphia Flyers at Downtown’s Barclays Center. AP photo
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Whether it’s bad “puck luck” or a lack of scoring from team captain John Tavares, the New York Islanders are suddenly in the middle of their worst slump of the season.

And it may just cost them a spot in the playoffs.

“You look at the standings and you have a chance,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano insisted after watching Monday night’s critical 4-1 loss to the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers in front of 14,329 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“That’s what you want in the last 10, 12 games left. Some teams don’t have a chance,” Capuano added. “You’ve put yourself in the position to have a chance.”

The position was much stronger just a couple of weeks ago, when the Islanders (38-24-9, 85 points) were dead even with the rival Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division standings and had what appeared to be a safe cushion over the two wild-card contenders, Pittsburgh and Detroit, in the Eastern Conference.

But a season-high four-game losing streak and 1-4-2 skid over the last seven contests has dropped New York behind the surging Penguins for the coveted third spot in the division standings.

It has also left the Islanders just three points ahead of the Flyers for the East’s top wild card, with Detroit holding the second spot with 83 points.

That means our borough’s new NHL franchise will have to significantly amp up its performance over the final 11 games, beginning with Wednesday’s home contest against the Ottawa Senators, just to reach the playoffs for the second straight season.

“It’s not like we’re not trying,” said Tavares, who played his 500th NHL game Monday night, but has registered a single point during the Isles’ season-high slide.

“We just have to execute better and we just got to play with a little more confidence and believe in our game and the way we have to play,” he added. “There can’t be any panic, obviously we need some urgency and we need to get some points. It’s crucial in the final stretch.”

The difference between urgency and all-out panic isn’t really decipherable when the losses keep mounting.

First, the Isles lost starting netminder Jaroslav Halak for the rest of the regular season with a groin injury suffered during a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh here on March 8.

Though back-up Thomas Greiss and rookie Jean-Francois Berube have done their share to keep New York afloat over the past seven games, the Isles’ offense has not.

New York has managed two goals or fewer in all but two of its past seven games, including a humbling 3-0 blanking in Dallas Saturday night, and was shut down after Kyle Okposo equalized Monday’s game at 1-1 with his 20th goal of the season at the 3:54 mark of the second period.

“It’s a frustrating time right now,” Okposo openly admitted. ”We have to find a way to pull ourselves out of it. We have to come together as a team and just play and play better.

“Right now we’re pretty inconsistent,” he added. “Good shift, bad shift, we aren’t really turning the tide and that’s what we need this time of year. We just need to roll them over and put together more good shifts consecutively.”

Tavares, still the team’s top scorer with 26 goals, hasn’t lit the lamp since a 3-1 loss at Boston on March 12, leaving the Isles to look to others to drive what is now officially an anemic offensive attack.

“We are just having some [bad] puck luck right now,” Capuano said, going on to defend the team’s best player and on-ice leader.”[Tavares] is trying to lead our team. He’s doing the best he can, but the supporting staff and a few other guys, it’s nonexistent right now.”

Like a true captain, Tavares stood up and accepted responsibility for the team’s late-season swoon.

“It’s obviously been a tough stretch,” he ceded. “It starts with myself. I have to elevate my game where we need it.”

They need it now more than at any point during this otherwise captivating and successful first season in Brooklyn. But the perception of the Isles’ inaugural campaign here will ultimately be dictated by whether or not the squad even gets the chance to post its first playoff series win since 1993 next month. Just a couple of weeks ago, that appeared to be the last thing Brooklyn hockey fanatics had to worry about.

Isle Have Another: Greiss has started all but one game in Halak’s absence, and made 23 saves in Monday’s loss. Berube helped the Isles pick up a critical point in a 2-1 shootout defeat at Pittsburgh on March 15, but has not received another opportunity since. Capuano may turn to the 24-year-old German Wednesday night against the Senators, but again, the Isles’ offensive woes have made it virtually impossible for a goalie to have a winning performance of late. After hosting the Sens, the Isles travel to Tampa Bay on Friday and Carolina on Saturday, meaning Capuano will likely use both goalies as he has done throughout the campaign in back-to-back game scenarios.

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