The Islanders' season is just about a month old, and their inability to play consistently from one night to the next already is an issue.
After a mad dash to victory over the powerhouse Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday night, the Islanders fell behind by two goals on the first two Philadelphia shots Saturday night. The 5-2 loss to a Flyers team that had scored 13 total goals in its first nine games was the result of too many breakdowns and too many Islanders unable to give their best effort.
The Islanders faltered at this time of the schedule in each of the previous three seasons. Aside from last season, when they turned it around with a furious finish, the late October/early November swoon has led them on a steady slide to irrelevance.
That was supposed to be a thing of the past. Instead, the Islanders sit at 4-4-3, with the same number of wins through 11 games that they had in each of the previous three seasons.
"I'd hoped so," Travis Hamonic said when asked if these effort issues were supposed to be behind this team. "We were flat tonight."
Kevin Poulin made his first start in goal in two weeks and was down by two goals by the 5:30 mark of the first. Vinny Lecavalier's power-play blast ticked off Hamonic's stick and in just 4:30 into the game. A minute later, Jakub Voracek raced around rookie defenseman Matt Donovan, cut past Matt Carkner and buried a shot behind Poulin through a crowd.
The Flyers hadn't scored more than two goals in a game coming in. Now they had two on two shots and more confidence than they'd had during a horrible 2-7-0 start that included the firing of former Islanders coach Peter Laviolette.
"When you score on your first two shots, it's hard not to have confidence," said Poulin, who finished with 27 saves. "They have a lot of skill and they got a big boost there."
The Islanders twice pulled within a goal, on Kyle Okposo's first-period slap shot and Frans Nielsen's second-period shorthander, but the Isles did not rally in the third down a goal as they had a night earlier in Pittsburgh.
Lecavalier, who scored again late in the first for a 3-1 lead, completed his hat trick at 8:53 of the third, sweeping the puck into an open net with Poulin out of position and Donovan unable to tie up Lecavalier.
It was another rough night for Donovan, who was on for three Flyers goals and now is a minus-6 in his last three games. With Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) and Brian Strait (upper body) sidelined, the Islanders went with the same six defensemen as they had on Friday -- at least until Donovan started to implode, when Jack Capuano essentially went down to five defensemen.
"We had some D that struggled," Capuano said. "You saw some of the battles we lost. We can't have that."
What the Islanders have right now is a team that can score but can't put a full 60 minutes together night in and night out. The Rangers, another team struggling to find itself early this season, come to the Coliseum on Tuesday. If the Isles come out weak again, they risk giving life to another divisional opponent.
"We're a .500 club and we should be disappointed," Capuano said. "Our standards are higher."