The Islanders' maddening inconsistency reared its head again Tuesday with two blown leads, one late rally and a 5-4 overtime loss to the Canucks, leaving the Isles at 3-3-3 for the season.
That record is a perfect summation of the team to date: Not good enough to be ahead of the pack and yet not bad enough to be in need of an overhaul.
"Losing games like that kind of tells the tale," said Matt Moulson, who had two power-play goals in helping the Isles to 2-0 and 3-2 leads. "There have been times when we've dominated play. Then we get sloppy for a little bit and the puck ends up in our net. You end up losing games playing that way."
The Canucks took advantage of a shaky Evgeni Nabokov, who left too many rebounds and fought the puck for much of the night. After a broken play in center ice in the final 30 seconds of the second period with the game tied, Nabokov served up Kevin Bieksa's soft toss on goal right to Chris Higgins, who put Vancouver up on a play that barely qualified as a scoring chance.
Frans Nielsen tied the game with 1:12 left in regulation, burying a carom off a crowd with Roberto Luongo down and out. That got the Islanders a point, but they failed to grab the second one when Brad Richardson's centering pass banked off Andrew MacDonald's stick and behind Nabokov at 2:16 of overtime.
"I'm not going to talk about the goaltending," Jack Capuano said. He would add later: "Their goals are tough to explain tonight. It's not like there were a lot of breakdowns. We've got to move on."
The Islanders certainly have no problems scoring goals, as evidenced by their early 2-0 lead on Brock Nelson's first NHL goal at 2:26 and Moulson's second-effort try at Luongo's doorstop at 4:41.
But 16 seconds later Ryan Kesler scored off a rebound, and Daniel Sedin tied it at 9:09 with a soft wrist shot off the rush that fluttered past Nabokov, who has allowed nine goals in the last two games.
"Their plan was pretty obvious. They were putting the puck on net and going for the rebounds," said Nabokov, who made 28 saves.
Nabokov has played eight of the Isles' first nine games. Regardless of how he's played of late, Kevin Poulin was going to get some work -- the Isles have back-to-back games each of the next two weekends, beginning with Friday in Pittsburgh and Saturday at the Coliseum against the Flyers. "If Poulin plays well, he's going to play more," Capuano said.
But goaltending is only part of the inconsistency. The Islanders had plenty of good scoring chances on Luongo, even beyond scoring four times. Peter Regin hit the post on a wide-open try for the second straight game, this one on the power play in the second period with the Isles ahead 3-2.
Islanders defensemen had 11 of their 32 shots on goal, but the defense still does not have an even-strength goal this season.
"It's not like we're playing poorly," Capuano said. "There are some good things. But some guys have to play better, no question."