COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Islanders were right in it, as they've been in almost all of their games this season. Then a bad penalty, a power-play goal against and poof -- they were scrambling and lost again, just that fast.
Saturday night's 5-2 loss to the Blue Jackets, a team that had come in on a five-game losing streak, dropped the Islanders further away from the playoff picture in the Metropolitan Division and further into a self-made funk only 17 games into the season.
A 2-2 game after two sloppy periods -- which included the loss of Thomas Vanek to an upper-body injury just half a minute into the game -- quickly turned into the Isles' third straight loss on this road trip.
"This is what we did two, three years ago, when we were in the basement of the league," Matt Martin said in a quiet locker room after a brief players-only talk. "It's unacceptable. We did it again."
Travis Hamonic took a retaliatory slashing penalty on Brandon Dubinsky only 15 seconds into the third. After a faceoff loss, James Wisniewski fired a shot from along the boards that R.J. Umberger tipped past Evgeni Nabokov, dropping the Isles behind for a third time.
This time they did not rebound. Rookie Matt Donovan and Andrew MacDonald got crossed up on a harmless-looking Columbus rush barely three minutes later, and Cam Atkinson was free to chip a rebound past Nabokov for a 4-2 lead.
"It was just a bad third, very soft," said John Tavares, who had an assist and three shots on goal but wasn't terribly effective with Pierre-Marc Bouchard on his left in place of Vanek. "It didn't seem like we wanted to do the work . . . I don't know why."
Tavares wasn't the only one at a loss. The Islanders were blitzed in a terrible second period in Washington on Tuesday night, played decently but too loose in the offensive zone while being shut out in Raleigh on Thursday night and were outworked too often again Saturday night despite goals from Frans Nielsen and Thomas Hickey as they rallied from deficits in the first two periods.
"They've got to figure it out," coach Jack Capuano said. "We're not talking systems or structure here, we're talking battles. We're losing battles. They've got to figure it out."
Capuano did not offer an update on Vanek, who fell awkwardly after being tripped by Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky only 20 seconds in. He went to the locker room and did not return, forcing the juggling of the remaining 11 forwards. A source said Vanek definitely will miss Sunday night's game in Montreal and will be evaluated when the team returns home.
But even without their recently acquired star, the Islanders were in a very winnable game entering the third.
They are 2-6-1 in their own division after the three straight loss to the three new divisional teams. Last season's modest success is starting to recede.
"I think it's time we stop talking about last year," Colin McDonald said. "It's game 16, 17, we have to be focused on what we're doing now. We know how we need to play; we just can't seem to get there."