Isles begin critical stretch with Barclays dud against Columbus
Fall 4-1 to Blue Jackets to slip further behind in playoff chase
Anders Lee intimated during Tuesday’s morning skate that the Islanders were entering a crucial set of games and had little margin for error if they hoped to return to the playoffs this year after missing out by a single point a season ago.
“Three huge divisional games and one where we can kind of put our foot down and start to put things together a little bit here and put our stamp into the playoffs here and there’s a lot of games left,” Lee said hours prior to the Islanders’ showdown with Columbus at Barclays Center.
“But this is an extremely important week and it can really set us up well for the rest of the year.”
Lee picked up an assist on team captain John Tavares’ first-period goal, but that was about as good as it got for the steadily sinking Isles, who slipped even further back in the Eastern Conference postseason race with a stinker of a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jackets in front of 10,232 disgruntled customers in Downtown Brooklyn.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Lee said after New York was once again outshot, 51-30, and outplayed en route to its ninth loss in 13 games, falling three points behind Carolina for the East’s final wild-card spot.
Islander fans even began chanting “Snow must go!” during the third period, calling for the ouster of general manager Garth Snow.
“We have to find some kind of spark, some kind of energy,” Lee insisted. “Just more of the same. We have to start Thursday [against the Rangers]. Division game again, big game. We have to have it.”
Tavares picked up his 600th career point by stuffing home a rebound of Lee’s initial shot on Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and Isles netminder Jaroslav Halak stood tall in net during the first 20 minutes, stopping all 26 of the Blue Jackets’ attempts.
However, New York never recovered from Columbus’ two power-play goals in the second stanza, falling behind for good against the team with the league’s lowest-scoring man-advantage unit.
“They capitalized on their opportunities,” noted Tavares, who joined legends Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies and Brent Sutter on the list of Isles with at least 600 career points.
“They had time and space and put everything on net,” he added. “We have to get out of our end and create chances. We have to execute better … All you can do is move on to your next game and try to get better.”
The Isles (27-25-6, 60 points) haven’t won consecutive games since mid-January, but must now find a way to pick up points against the arch rival Rangers here on Thursday before heading to wild-card spot-holding Carolina on Friday night.
Halak, who finished with 47 saves and has faced more shots per game than any goalie in the sport, recognized the importance of giving two points to the Blue Jackets with 24 regular-season games remaining in the campaign.
“It’s a tough loss,” he said. “These games, they are really important for our team. Every point counts and can make a difference at the end of the season.”
Despite trailing by only a goal entering the final 20 minutes, the Isles’ hopes of a comeback were quickly dashed when former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson snuck pucks past Halak in a 43-second span of the third period.
“Everyone wants to make a story out of [the shots we give up], but at the end of the day it was a 1-1 hockey game with a couple minutes left in the second period,” Isles forward Cal Clutterbuck said.
“They scored on the power play and then they scored on a couple broken [plays] in the third period.”
The Isles are a dismal 12-18-4 in their last 34 games, hardly the sign of a team making a playoff push.
But with a 24-game slate still in front of them, they still have time to make their third full season here in Brooklyn a successful one.
When they start making some actual progress in that pursuit, however, is anyone’s guess at this point.
“We just need to regroup again and try to have a better effort on Thursday,” Halak said.
Isle Have Another: The Isles established a new franchise record by giving up 50 shots in a game on at least three occasions this season. But head coach Doug Weight believes that the quality of shots allowed is much more important than the quantity. “I think what happens with teams, they see you’re giving up a lot of shots and they just tell you to keep peppering them: shoot, shoot, shoot,” Weight said after the Isles’ shots-against total for the season rose to 2,076. “A lot were from the outside, but the point is there are 50 shots. The guys see it, it kind of wears on you, so you gotta try to first of all, limit the shots, but you can’t run at people outside the blue line, or wide, those are saves that we have to have, and we’ll get.” No other team in the NHL has allowed 2,000 shots yet.
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