After three straight wins, including a stirring overtime defeat of the defending Stanley Cup champions, you might have figured the Islanders had learned to get the egregious mistakes out of their game.
If so, you would have figured wrong.
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The Islanders hand-delivered three second-period goals to the Hurricanes, one of the many teams the Isles are chasing in the crowded Metropolitan Division, and dropped a 3-2 decision Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
"Three gifts" is how Jack Capuano described the Carolina goals, two of which came in a 57-second span late in the second period. The Islanders have allowed a league-high 61 second-period goals in their 43 games.
"You look at two of their goals," Capuano went on, "and we had the puck. Our puck decisions are what get us in trouble."
After a scoreless first, the Islanders' first giveaway was by Andrew MacDonald. He chased a puck that was close to being ruled icing. Under the new hybrid rules, few icings are waved off. This one was, though, and MacDonald was moving a bit too slowly to recover from the call. Patrick Dwyer picked MacDonald's pocket behind the Isles' net and fed Manny Malhotra, who beat Evgeni Nabokov under the crossbar at 6:57.
The Islanders tied it on John Tavares' goal at 7:41 -- off an equally bad Hurricanes turnover -- but the next two Carolina goals came with Tavares' line on the ice.
Jordan Staal walked in alone to beat Nabokov at 13:12 with Thomas Vanek waving for an offsides whistle that never came. "That's on me," Vanek said. "It's a missed assignment. And then we lost the momentum for a few minutes and we're down another."
That one came at 14:09 after Calvin de Haan failed to get a puck deep as his teammates changed. That dump-in hit a linesman, true, but no one jumped on the puck or pressured Andrej Sekera, who sent Jeff Skinner off on a two-on-none break. Nabokov stopped Skinner's shot but Brett Sutter beat the forwards down for the rebound, putting the Islanders down two for the third time in four games.
Unlike the previous two, the Islanders didn't generate much in the third, although they pulled within a goal on Vanek's deflection past Anton Khudobin with 24.2 seconds to play.
Tavares noted that "it's not time to get down on ourselves," but Capuano and his staff may have disagreed. The locker room stayed closed a few extra minutes after the loss, which dropped the Islanders to 1-5-4 in their last 10 Coliseum games. It was clear the coach was not happy with his top line.
"They weren't very good without the puck and they know that," Capuano said. "They made some pretty crucial mistakes without the puck tonight. That said, we need some other guys to start scoring some goals or there'll be some changes."
The Islanders remained five points out of seventh in the Metro Division, still within loud shouting distance of the group of teams hovering between second and seventh. But games like this are even more costly as the season bleeds into the second half, thanks to the hole the Islanders dug in the first 41 games.
"We had too many guys that were nonchalant," Capuano said. "We didn't have all 20 guys. We can't have nights like that."