Frustrated Islanders have plenty of chances in 3-2 loss to Sabres
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Jack Capuano and a few of his players felt the same way: If the Islanders play more games the way they played Saturday night against the Sabres, they will win plenty of games.
Here's the question, though: When?
The Islanders dominated most of the 60 minutes, generating chance upon chance upon chance. All it added up to was a fourth straight loss, a 3-2 defeat that was pretty well sealed when John Tavares, the best player on the ice in the game, deked Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller to the ice on a penalty shot, flipped a backhand over the prone Miller and watched it clang off the goal post with 3:53 to play.
"I just didn't put it in," said Tavares, who scored his team-leading sixth goal with 41.1 seconds left in the first but didn't convert any of his other 10 shot attempts. "I got the room I needed, made the move and I just didn't score."
Lots of Islanders could have said the same. They outshot the Sabres 43-15 and led in shot attempts by an 82-37 margin.
With the score 2-2, Matt Moulson was denied with an open net early in the third thanks to an alert defensive play by Sabres center Cody Hodgson. Barely 15 seconds later, Kyle Okposo couldn't find the puck with a yawning net, and Tavares rang a shot off the same post at 3:27 of the third.
Any of those chances could have given the Islanders the lead. Instead, Alexander Sulzer's unscreened slap shot clicked off Evgeni Nabokov's arm and into the net at 7:35 of the third, and the Sabres somehow managed to make it stand up the rest of the way.
"The coaches were happy with the way we played," said Colin McDonald, who tied the score at 2-2 with 2:25 left in the second on a quick shot from the slot, his second NHL goal and first as an Islander. "A game like that where you play so well for so long, we just didn't get that goal when we needed it. But if we keep playing that way, we'll win games for sure."
That is not happening now, and time is slipping away. Monday's visit by the Hurricanes marks the one-quarter pole of this shortened season. The Islanders sit last in the Atlantic Division, tied for 13th in the Eastern Conference and running out of time for moral victories.
"We were definitely better than we've been," Capuano said. "Right now it doesn't feel like anything is going our way."
Lubomir Visnovsky's debut was strong in parts, though he wore down as the game went along. He improved the power play's zone time and shot rate, but it still was 0-for-3, bringing the futility streak to 0-for-22 on the power play in the last four games.
"I feel pretty good," said Visnovsky, who had three shots on goal and was a plus-2 in 20:34. "Sometimes if we play more simple, we are more effective."
The Islanders as a group were effective Saturday night, there is no denying that. From Tavares' line on down to a new, younger fourth line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Josh Bailey, nearly all of the Islanders were pulling together.
That's not what counts now, however.
"You can't accept losing," Moulson said. "There are things to build on, but we have to find a way to win that game."