Identity crisis costs Islanders in Buffalo
Three-game winning streak snapped in ‘cute’ 3-1 loss to Sabres
Head coach Barry Trotz and veteran forward Matt Martin both thought the Islanders got a little too “cute” during Tuesday night’s loss in Buffalo.
And cute just doesn’t cut it when you are fighting tooth and nail for the Brooklyn-based franchise’s first playoff appearance in three seasons.
“We tried to play a different game than we’ve had success with,” Trotz lamented after Metropolitan Division-leading New York suffered a 3-1 loss to the Sabres in front of 16,894 fans at KeyBank Center.
“We’re usually a hard-driving north team, and we wanted to play cute and we don’t play that way.”
Casey Cizikas’ 13th goal of the season, off assists from linemates Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, proved to be the only tally for the Islanders (33-17-6, 72 points), who had a three-game winning streak snapped en route to suffering just their second regulation loss in exactly one month.
“When we start playing cute, we don’t have a whole lot of success,” noted Martin after New York had its lead in the tightly packed division race shaved to three points over defending Stanley Cup champion Washington (69 points).
“For two periods tonight, we didn’t play the brand of hockey we’re used to, and it cost us,” he added. “We were better in the third, but that’s too little, too late then.”
After Cizikas’ first-period equalizer knotted the contest at 1-1, the Isles were unable to cash in on numerous opportunities to forge in front, mostly because they chose to make an extra pass rather than putting the rubber on net.
Jason Pominville put Buffalo ahead to stay at 6:49 of the second period, and Johan Larsson capped the scoring with 2:25 remaining in regulation
Robin Lehner made 19 saves for New York, which needs to return to form quickly if it hopes to pick up a pair of critical points at third-place Columbus on Valentine’s Day.
With a 3-0 win over the Capitals on Tuesday, the Blue Jackets (67 points) moved within five points of the first-place Isles.
“We need to start on time and play the way that’s made us successful,” Martin insisted.
“We have a chance on Thursday to correct it in a big one against Columbus.”
Though New York limited Buffalo to 10 shots through the first two periods, it failed to penetrate the Sabres’ defense and goaltender Linus Ullmark, who made 24 saves, including several big stops in the third period.
Even worse, the Isles didn’t apply enough pressure to pick up a single penalty against the Sabres, marking the first time since last Feb. 18 that they didn’t have a power-play opportunity for an entire game.
“We only played one good period, and it was the third,” Isles captain Anders Lee ceded.
“They did a good job of frustrating us tonight. We got away from our game because of it, and we weren’t making plays the first two periods. Credit to them for doing that, but it’s really on us to get back to our roots and get back on track.”
The Isles, who still lead the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.34) and have the league’s stingiest goaltender in Lehner (2.08 GAA), will be back in Brooklyn Saturday for their final regular-season game at Downtown’s Barclays Center against the Edmonton Oilers.
But before their potential swan song on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, Trotz’s troops will have to eliminate some of that cuteness in Columbus.
“We have success when everybody is going in the right direction,” Trotz added. “We just have to get guys all pulling the right way. We’ve been on a pretty good run here … We had a lot of passengers [Tuesday night].”
Isle Have Another: Despite the loss in Buffalo, the Isles still boast the NHL’s best record since Dec. 15 at 19-5-2, putting them 12 points ahead of last season’s pace through 56 games. … NHL commissioner Gary Bettman still hasn’t decided where the Isles will play their home playoff games, if they qualify. Following Saturday’s game against the Oilers in Brooklyn, the Isles are scheduled to play out the rest of the regular season at the renovated Nassau Coliseum, where they own an impressive 6-1-2 mark through their first nine visits to their former long-time home. Though Brooklyn was originally tabbed to split home dates with the Coliseum over the next three seasons, or at least until the team’s state-of-the-art facility in Elmont, N.Y., is ready to open, there are already rumors circulating that this may be the team’s final season here in our fair borough. … Former Islander forward Kyle Okposo picked up an assist on Larsson’s third-period goal, giving him points in four straight games against his ex-teammates.
In local college sports news, Karen Erving, the all-time leading scorer in St. Francis Brooklyn basketball history, had her No. 40 retired prior to the Terriers’ win over Fairleigh Dickinson Saturday at Remsen Street’s Pope Center.
Erving poured in 1,929 points at the Brooklyn Heights school and also grabbed a program-high 1,049 rebounds during her four-year career with the Terriers before graduating with the Class of 1991.
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