Standing pat not working for Isles just yet
Slump continues with loss to conference-leading Calgary at NYCB
Team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello insisted following the passing of Monday’s NHL trade deadline that the Islanders were comfortable with their current roster, and that making a deal just for the sake of making one didn’t make much sense.
Head coach Barry Trotz doubled down on that theory, telling his players during a morning skate Monday morning that “Everybody who is here right now deserves the opportunity to stay. We’ve done a good job as a collective group. Our strength is our group.”
That group had better begin performing better if it hopes to hold on to its shrinking lead in the Metropolitan Division race and reach the postseason for the first time since the franchise’s initial campaign here in our fair borough back in 2015-16.
Josh Bailey’s second-period goal proved to be the only highlight in yet another lackluster effort by New York Tuesday night in an eventual 3-1 loss to the Western Conference-leading Calgary Flames in front of 13,097 fans at NYCB Live in Uniondale, N.Y.
The Islanders fell to 1-2-1 in their last four contests and dropped into a dead heat with defending Stanley Cup champion Washington (79 points) for the top spot in the Metro, though the Orange and Blue hold two games in hand on Trotz’s former club.
New York still boasts the stingiest defense in the sport, limiting opponents to an NHL-best 2.32 goals per contest.
But its offense has been in a malaise of late, including an 0-for-4 performance on the power play against the Flames, who have won six straight games while beating the Isles twice in the past week.
Tied 1-1 headed into the third period at the renovated Coliseum, the Isles knew the importance of getting on top of Calgary in the final stanza, but they failed to do so.
Mikael Backlund snapped the deadlock at 3:15 of the third, and less than two minutes later Rasmus Andersson beat Isles goalie Robin Lehner with a shot from the point following a failed clearing attempt, dropping New York into a 3-1 hole it would not climb out of.
“Obviously the next [goal] is pretty important when you’re tied going into the third, and you get a bit of a backbreaker when they get the third one,” said Bailey, who scored his 14th goal of the year in the second to equalize the contest.
“It’s tough to get out of a two-goal deficit in the third, and it wasn’t our night.”
Coming off a 4-0 victory at Vancouver Saturday, the Isles were ready to get a measure of revenge against the Flames for their 4-2 loss in Calgary last Wednesday night.
Even down 2-1 early in the third period, they continued to pepper Flames netminder Mike Smith, but to no avail as countless golden opportunities went for naught either due to Smith’s agility between the pipes or bad puck luck.
When Andersson’s seemingly harmless shot found its way past Lehner, who leads the league with a 2.10 goals-against average, the Isles were noticeably deflated.
“I felt like I played a really, really good game, and then I let in a [bad] goal,” Lehner ceded.
“It doesn’t happen often, and it kind of took the power out of our team a little bit,” he added. “I take responsibility for that … They scored that 2-1 goal and then I let that one up and it kind of kills us. That’s on me, but this is nothing to panic over.”
Panic will not be an appropriate term for what the Isles are going through unless they fall out of a postseason spot all together.
New York stands five points clear of Pittsburgh for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 20 regular-season games remaining.
In other words, this turnaround campaign is in clear danger of turning into a late-season collapse unless the Isles begin to register some points on this extended homestand, which continues Thursday night with the return of former team captain John Tavares and the formidable Toronto Maple Leafs.
Lamoriello, who was unable to re-sign Tavares this past summer after the perennial All-Star center spent his first nine seasons with the Isles, doubtlessly had deals on the table to acquire another top-line forward or, at the very least, someone to help the team’s 25th-ranked power-play unit before the deadline.
But the Hall of Fame architect of a New Jersey franchise that won three Stanley Cups and reached two others wasn’t willing to part with what appears to be a bright future on Long Island for a potential quick fix during his stretch run.
“We weren’t going to get into a situation where we sacrificed what our plan is because we feel very good about this hockey team,” Lamoriello said after the trade deadline came and went without a significant move for this franchise.
“You don’t do something just for the sake of doing it. We’re extremely pleased at where we are. This is a collective group that has done an outstanding job together. Our focus is just to go forward with it.”
Isle Have Another: Though he declined to make a significant deal at the deadline, Lamoriello and Trotz were heartened by the return of two regulars who had missed significant playing time due to injury. Andrew Ladd, out since Nov. 13 with a lower-body injury, picked up an assist on Bailey’s goal Tuesday night and defenseman Thomas Hickey, missing since Dec. 17 due to a concussion, registered a hit and two blocks in just under 15 minutes of ice alongside rookie blue liner Devon Toews. “I thought both of them actually played pretty well,” Trotz said. “You can tell that there’s a little bit of rust, mostly puck stuff, but I thought both of them, for the first game served a real good game up against a very tough opponent.” … The Isles will doubtlessly have a video tribute Thursday for Tavares, a two-time Hart Trophy finalist during his tenure here. But many fans will boo the former face of the franchise for accepting a seven-year deal to go to his native Toronto rather than signing an eight-year pact to remain with the Isles.
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