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Isles must fill in blanks prior to postseason

Look to shake off ongoing offensive malaise in Winnipeg Thursday

March 27, 2019 JT Torenli
Head coach Barry Trotz hopes to point the Islanders back in the right direction following their third shutout loss in the past five games Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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“A goal, a goal! My kingdom for a goal!”

While Islanders head coach Barry Trotz isn’t paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Richard III just yet, he might be wondering what exactly happened to his playoff-hopeful team’s offense as it enters the final five games of the regular season.

Following New York’s third shutout loss in the past five contests, a 4-0 blanking at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night in front of 17,928 fans at Nationwide Arena, Trotz intimated that the Isles need to find a way to get their stagnant offense going.

“It was a playoff game,” Trotz said after New York failed to move closer to nailing down its first postseason spot in three years while Columbus kept its playoff hopes alive by moving within two points of Montreal for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.

“Plain and simple that’s what it was,” Trotz emphasized. “The last two games we’ve played have been playoff games. There’s not a lot of room and you have to create it. If we find the back of the net early there it might be different, but it wasn’t. We were in it really until they got the third goal.”

Isles netminder Thomas Greiss, who had shut out Columbus in each of the previous two meetings between the clubs, kept New York in it through the first two periods.

Trailing 1-0 early in the third stanza, Greiss surrendered a tally to Artemi Paranin at 2:38 of the period, severely damaging New York’s hopes of a late comeback.

“We really needed that first [goal], to get that first one by him,” Isles captain Anders Lee said of Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who steered aside 26 shots for his eighth shutout of the year.

“I think it would have led to at least one more,” Lee added. “We’re pressing there to get the second one, then you have a two-goal deficit with 14 minutes left and you have to make some pushes and be a bit more risky. Unfortunately, it didn’t pay off.”

Team captain Anders Lee admitted that the Islanders know their postseason position is in peril entering the final five games of the regular season.(AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Team captain Anders Lee admitted that the Islanders know their postseason position is in peril entering the final five games of the regular season. AP Photo/Paul Vernon

It certainly didn’t as Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson added third-period tallies to complete New York’s latest no-show performance on the offensive side of the puck.

Still ranked first in the NHL in goals allowed per game at a stingy 2.38, the Isles are tied for 21st on the 32-team circuit in goals scored per contest at 2.70, numbers that have dipped precipitously over the past week and a half following shutout losses to Boston, Montreal and the Blue Jackets.

New York also ranks 29th in the league in power play goals with 31 through the first 77 games of the season.

“Getting shut out is never fun,” Isles veteran forward Brock Nelson ceded. “You definitely start to squeeze it for sure.”

Having scored two goals or fewer in seven of their last nine games, the Isles have sunk in the standings as well, dropping into third place in the Metropolitan Division via a head-to-head tiebreaker with surging Pittsburgh.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals are three points ahead of New York for the division’s top spot, and Columbus, the first team on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, is seven points back of the Isles (44-26-7, 95 points).

Whether they find an offensive spark or not, the Isles must figure out a way to win at least a couple of games down the stretch, beginning with Thursday’s night’s visit to Winnipeg, where the Jets are trying to hold off Nashville for first place in the Central Division.

Otherwise, this turnaround season that began with a front-office overhaul and the departure of former captain John Tavares while seeing the Isles go from the worst defensive team in the sport to one of the best, will end as the previous two campaigns have: sans a playoff berth.

“Oh, we know where we are,” Lee confessed when asked if there was some concern that New York might squander its postseason chances during these final two weeks of the regular season.

“We’re not oblivious. We’re not in that big of a bubble. We know where we stand.”

Where they stand is on tenuous ground, needing at least five points to guarantee a playoff berth.

Extremely tenuous if they don’t get their offense in gear and prove they can score in tightly played playoff-type games.

“It’s all part of the pressure of closing out a season,” Lee said.

Isle Have Another: The Isles announced Tuesday that forward Andrew Ladd would miss the remainder of the regular season and playoffs with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, depriving New York of yet another offensive threat. The winger suffered the injury Sunday afternoon during the Isles’ 2-0 victory over the visiting Arizona Coyotes at the renovated Nassau Coliseum. “He tore his ACL,” Isles general manager and team president Lou Lamoriello said. “He will be gone for the next five months or so. He will be operated on this week. It is not the same leg that he had hurt previous. It’s the other leg, the other knee.” Following their visit to Winnipeg Thursday, the Isles will return to Uniondale, N.Y., to host Buffalo on Saturday before Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Coliseum again on April Fools’ Day. The only way the team can play at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center again this season is if it advances beyond the first round of the NHL playoffs.

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