Islanders look to rebound from brutal trip
The Islanders’ road trip from hell is finally over.
Now, the Brooklyn/Long Island-based franchise must find a way to “right the ship” before its too late, according to team captain Anders Lee.
“We’ve got our backs against the wall a little bit here and it’s been a tough stretch and a brutal road trip,” Lee said shortly after the Isles completed their fruitless four-game Western swing with a 3-1 loss in Colorado Wednesday night.
The Isles (33-20-6, 72 points) left Brooklyn on Feb. 11 following a 5-3 victory over Philadelphia at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
The win thrust them into third place in the Metropolitan Division and three points clear of their nearest competition in the Eastern Conference wild card race.
But after managing two measly goals during their four-game losing streak through Nashville, Vegas, Arizona and Colorado, the Isles are locked in a three-way tie for the two wild card spots with Carolina and Columbus.
With 23 games remaining in the regular season, Lee knows his team doesn’t have much time to lament its longest losing skid that’s been playing out since December 2017.
Instead, the Isles have to find a way to rediscover the scoring touch that saw them tally at least four goals in seven of the previous eight games before this dismal trip.
That quest begins Friday night at NYCB Live, aka the renovated Nassau Coliseum, where the Isles will retire legendary forward John Tonelli’s No. 27 jersey before taking on the Detroit Red Wings.
“Moving forward we just have to keep our heads and stick together and right the ship when we get back home in front of our fans, get some energy from them and figure this out,” Lee noted.
“It’s just been a tough trip that we weren’t able to right. We have to think about it tonight and think about it on the flight tomorrow, but we have to move on and stick together.”
Semyon Varlamov, who came to New York this past summer via free agency after spending his first eight seasons with the Avalanche, made 26 saves in his return to Colorado before a sellout crowd of 18,011 at the Pepsi Center.
But Varlamov’s solid play in net wasn’t nearly enough as the Isles failed to score a goal in the first two periods for the second straight game after being blanked all together in both Nashville and Vegas to begin the trip.
Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky and Gabriel Landeskog lit the lamp behind Varlamov before Brock Nelson delivered his team-leading 22nd goal for New York with 2:14 remaining in regulation.
Though they avoided what would have been a third shutout defeat in six days, the Isles know they can’t continue to fall into big deficits with the way their offense is going of late.
“Right now we’re going through some adversity, some guys are drying up, we’ve got some people out and we need some people to step up,” said Isles Head Coach Barry Trotz, who is in the midst of his longest losing streak at the helm since taking over here before the start of last season.
“That said, the only people that are going to help us are the people in the room, our group and we are just going to have to find a way,” he added. “We can’t look back on this trip, we can’t do anything to repair this trip, but we can repair our next game and the following game and focus on what’s ahead of us.”
What’s ahead is a three-game homestand, beginning with the Red Wings on Friday, San Jose on Sunday and the crosstown rival New York Rangers next Tuesday night.
All three games will be in Uniondale, N.Y., as the Isles don’t play in Brooklyn, where they are riding a 15-game points streak dating to last season, until March 3, when they host Montreal at Barclays.
Regardless of where they play, however, the Isles must begin to produce points in the standings and goals on the scoreboard.
Otherwise, last year’s rise from non-playoff team to Eastern Conference semifinalist will no longer look like a building block toward bigger and better things for this franchise, which hasn’t captured a Stanley Cup since 1983.
“You can let [adversity] take over you, get into your head and let it bring you down, or you can let it fuel you,” Lee said. “You can be more determined by it, be inspired by it and that’s how you grow as a person and as a team.
“I don’t think that any of this tough stretch right here is going to be the one that knocks us down. I don’t think that’s who we are as a group, that’s not who we are as the New York Islanders and that’s why we’re looking forward to Friday to figure it all out.”
Isle Have Another: Isles forward Derick Brassard left Wednesday’s game late in the first period after taking a deflected puck off the face. He only managed to skate one shift thereafter, and his status for Friday’s tilt with the Red Wings remained unclear following the game. “Pucks are hard, and the wrist shots are hard,” Trotz told the Associated Press. “If you get hit in the right spot, trust me it hurts.” … The Isles are 7-0-3 in their 10 games at Barclays Center thus far this year. … Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle picked up assists on Nelson’s goal, which left the veteran center four shy of his career-best 26-goal season in 2015-16. … The Isles have won their first two meetings with Detroit this year, including an 8-2 rout of the Red Wings in Uniondale on Jan. 14.
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