For every point the Islanders gained during their recent 6-1-2 stretch, the fear of going a night without a point seemed to be greater. The Isles need to keep pace with the numerous teams around them by getting at least one point off every game, even when not at their best.
Thursday night's's 4-2 loss to the Canadiens was a worst-case scenario: a slow start, good goaltending from the opposition and zero points picked up. Things are so tight that even just the Isles' second regulation loss in 10 games dropped them from a tie for 11th in the East to a three-way tie for 12th, with the Isles trailing both the Sabres and the Lightning in tiebreaker scenarios.
"Every loss is critical for us right now," P.A. Parenteau said. "You swallow this one and you have to bounce back. We have two games this weekend and we have to win them both, nothing else. We don't have room to play with here."
The Islanders put themselves in an early hole yet again, surrendering a goal on the opponent's first shot for the 11th time in 53 games this season when Max Pacioretty snapped a wrist shot past Evgeni Nabokov 1:23 into the game.
The Islanders rebounded and controlled play for much of the first period and the early part of the second, but good chances went by the wayside thanks to Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. He stopped Kyle Okposo point-blank eight minutes into the first period after a nifty feed from John Tavares.
Josh Bailey had a couple of good chances. The fourth line of Jay Pandolfo, Nino Niederreiter and Tim Wallace scrummed and worked to get some chances as well, none better than Niederreiter's flying down the slot to take a pass from Pandolfo late in the second. Price snuffed them all out, highlighting the Isles' inability to get goals from their depth forwards.
"We gave up too much tonight," Pandolfo said. "When we do the little things right, when we play smart and simple, we're on top of our game."
Tavares snapped a three-game scoring drought with an assist on Matt Moulson's power-play goal with 2:41 to play, cutting the deficit to 3-1 and snapping a goalless skid at 170:02. Even after Mark Streit scored on a slap shot 48 seconds later, the Isles were within a goal but still out of reach after scuffling for the first 57 minutes.
Pacioretty scored again midway through the second to give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead. Former Ranger Scott Gomez scored his first goal in a year and three days midway through the third, and Streit gave the Coliseum crowd a jolt with a slap-shot goal at 18:07.
But there were no better chances, and Pacioretty completed his hat trick into an empty net with one second left.
The Islanders do have a condensed schedule, facing the Kings and Panthers on consecutive afternoons tomorrow and Sunday. They are 1-2-2 in their last five at home, another sore spot on the drive to respectability.
"We played a good game in Philly [Tuesday] and now, at home, we're playing a team that's not as good as Philly, a team that's vulnerable, and we don't take advantage," Streit said. "That's the disappointing part. It's a huge game and we didn't execute."