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Missing ‘mojo’ hurting Isles playoff chances

Drop out of postseason spot with third straight loss to Bruins

January 3, 2018 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Islanders head coach Doug Weight knows his team has to turn things around in a hurry if it hopes to avoid falling further out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot. AP photo by Gene J. Puskar
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The Brooklyn-based NHL franchise has suffered three straight regulation losses for the first time this season, and suddenly finds itself on the outskirts of the playoff chase entering Thursday night’s contest in Philadelphia.

“Adversity is hitting us between the eyes right now as a group, as a staff, as players,” Islanders head coach Doug Weight ceded following Tuesday night’s humbling 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in front of 11,878 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“We have to get back our mojo, our fierceness [that] we seem to have let drift.” 

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That mojo has been slip-sliding away since the beginning of December. 

The Islanders own an ugly 5-9-2 record since reeling off a season-high four consecutive wins to end November. 

They have also been outscored 15-4 during their current three-game slide, and were outshot by a whopping 29-14 margin over the final 40 minutes Tuesday night. 

The Bruins continuously peppered New York netminder Jaroslav Halak, who finished with 33 saves on 37 shots but got very little help on the other end of the ice. 

“If you’re going to use words like flat or a little sluggish at times in the second or third [periods], it’s concerning,” Weight added. “But it’s not going away.”

Nor is the memory of last season for the Isles, who missed a playoff spot by a single point after a furious second-half push that saw them go 24-12-4 once Weight replaced long-time head coach Jack Capuano on the bench.

After Danton Heinen slipped the puck past Halak for the game’s first goal at 8:17 of the opening period Tuesday, Jordan Eberle responded a little more than a minute later with his 14th tally of the campaign, providing the Isles with an opportunity to jump-start their otherwise dormant offense. 

But Patrice Bergeron gave Boston the lead for good at 8:28 of the second stanza, and Brad Marchand and Tim Schaller beat an overwhelmed Halak in the third before Noel Acciari added an empty-netter to keep New York winless since it pulled out a 3-2 overtime triumph over Buffalo here on Dec. 27.

“We’ve been letting up the first goal,” Isles forward Anders Lee said after New York surrendered the opening score for the 26th time in 40 games this season.

“We’ve been behind and chasing in games, and when you do that you have to take chances and put yourself in a vulnerable position at times. Next thing you know they bury another one or two.” 

Or three or four, as was the case Tuesday against the Bruins. 

The Isles (20-16-4, 44 points) enter Thursday’s game versus the Flyers knotted with the Hurricanes for the coveted final postseason slot in the East, but Carolina holds a game in hand as New York braces for this critical stretch.

Following their trip to Philadelphia, the Isles will head to two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh on Friday night and host the New Jersey Devils, who are in second place in the Metropolitan Division, at Barclays on Sunday before taking a one-week bye. 

Getting rested and ready for a stretch run at the playoffs will doubtlessly be more comforting if New York is able to salvage some points over the next week.

“We wanted to raise our game and respond,” team captain John Tavares said following the team’s latest dud against the Bruins.  “I thought it was pretty tight after two periods. We have to play a lot better, beginning with myself. We’re not playing to our expectations.”

Those expectations were raised significantly based on the team’s performance over the second half of last season, and a strong start to this one.

But with December came a malaise that saw the Isles register back-to-back wins just once the entire month, and now begins a crucial run of games against division opponents that will get a bit more interesting when they visit the archrival Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 13 after returning from the bye. 

As they learned the hard way last season, the Isles can’t afford to let points slip away in a tightly packed playoff race that promises to go down to the final few games for a second straight year. 

“We have three really big games and we have to figure it out,” Weight said.


Isle Have Another: Rookie center Tanner Fritz made his NHL debut vs. the Bruins on Tuesday. The 26-year-old from Grand Prairie, Alberta played just over 11 1/2 minutes after being called up Monday following the demotion of Anthony Beauvillier and Steve Bernier to AHL Bridgeport. “It was a good experience,” Fritz said after playing on the third line with Shane Prince and Brock Nelson. “I never thought I’d be in this position today, but obviously not the outcome I wanted to be a part of, or the team wanted. I’m glad to get my first game out of the way and it’s a great feeling. It will be nice to look back on this day, and I’ll always have it for the rest of my life.” … Josh Bailey’s career-high streak of 11 consecutive games with at least one point ended in Tuesday’s loss to Boston.

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