BUFFALO -- Another big game, another small performance from the Islanders.
The 2-1 loss to the Sabres Tuesday night was the second in as many days for the Isles, who are sinking back in the Eastern Conference standings at a time when a few points would have gotten them very close to the playoff chase.
"Everyone else around isn't running away with it, and we come in here, against a team that's behind us that we want to keep behind us . . . And once again, we didn't answer the bell for the full 60," Matt Martin said after the Isles fell to a tie for 13th, seven points back of the Leafs and Jets.
After allowing another goal in the opening minutes, Kevin Poulin (35 saves) and the Isles quieted things down, but could not produce anything until late. Frans Nielsen snapped a 134:22 goalless drought with a slap shot to beat Ryan Miller (30 saves) with 5:08 to play, and the Isles turned it on to try and tie it late, but they could not get that second goal.
"I liked our pushback late, but we're trying to play playoff hockey and we don't have a lot of confidence at the offensive end right now," said Doug Weight, who filled in as interim coach with Jack Capuano sick with the flu. "You need to find a way to put pucks on net and generate some offense."
After a sloppy play between Andrew MacDonald and Mark Streit led to Tyler Myers' goal 1:21 in -- Weight noted that his team seemed "surprised" by the Sabres' defensemen pinching down into the play, even though the Isles had gone over it before the game -- the Islanders didn't lack for chances, unlike Monday's quick deficit and embarrassing performance in a 6-0 loss to the Senators.
But there were no results. Brian Rolston had eight shots on goal, including a breakaway try in the second, but couldn't produce. The veteran hasn't scored a goal in 2012. Josh Bailey followed up Rolston's backhand breakaway try with a clear look and Miller down, but Bailey's wrist shot didn't get high enough and Miller made the save. Bailey has no goals in nine games and missed the third period because of back spasms.
Rolston and Matt Martin were trapped in deep after a good scoring chance and at the end of a shift early in the second, allowing the Sabres to slowly develop a good scoring chance at the other end. Derek Roy waited behind the net and fed Thomas Vanek for an easy goal at 3:41.
The way the Islanders were going offensively, a 2-0 lead could have been 20-0.
"It's up to us as players to get that confidence back," MacDonald said. "You can't go five periods without scoring this time of year."
Now, they'll go two days before facing the Rangers at the Coliseum on Friday. Things could look different in the standings by then.
"We have to find our swagger offensively, somehow," Weight said. "We've got 22 games to go, 44 points available to us. We know how we play when things are going well."