As John Tavares noted after an off-kilter opening weekend came to an end for the Islanders, "It's funny how it works sometimes."
After opening night Friday, when the Islanders were a bit sloppy but still emerged with a shootout win over the Devils, they carried the play for the better part of 45 minutes in their home opener against the Blue Jackets Saturday night.
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But being the better team for longer guarantees nothing. And the Isles came out on the short end of a shootout, a 3-2 defeat that stung after the Isles coughed up a 2-0 lead with less than 13 minutes to play.
"I don't think we were bad," said Frans Nielsen, who was denied twice by Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in the final 30 seconds of regulation with the score tied 2-2. "We were maybe a little too open, trading chances, when we should have been tighter with the lead."
There was little to dislike in those opening two-plus periods. Evgeni Nabokov had to make only four first-period saves, but they were all Grade-A chances. Playing on consecutive nights, Nabokov was especially sharp, stopping 27 of 29 shots in the game.
After keeping things scoreless through a period, Nabokov got some help in the second. Lubomir Visnovsky blasted home a one-timed shot off a feed from Nielsen to open the scoring on the power play at 8:17 of the second.
At 14:01, Tavares whipped a no-look backhand pass off the side boards right to Matt Moulson, who deked Bobrovsky and scored on the backhand from in close for a two-goal lead.
"It was a pretty good game for us to start the year off at home," said Tavares, who also received an assist on Visnovsky's goal.
But in the third, the Blue Jackets started to push the pace and drive the net harder, and the Isles did not play with the "heavy sticks" that Jack Capuano preaches in the defensive zone. Travis Hamonic was whistled for a high stick on Marian Gaborik and, after shot blocks by Casey Cizikas and Matt Donovan but no successful clears of the zone, Marc Letestu pounced on a loose puck to cut the Isles' lead to one at 7:45.
"We were doing the right things, blocking some shots and all," Nielsen said, "but we have to get the puck out when we can."
Nick Foligno dribbled the tying goal behind Nabokov after a strong drive to the net by R.J. Umberger -- Donovan failed to tie up Foligno's stick in close -- and the sellout Nassau Coliseum crowd of 16,170 sagged back with 8:06 to go.
They were enraged, as Visnovsky was, when the Isles defenseman was whistled for holding Brandon Dubinsky with 2:42 left in the third, a ticky-tack call in Visnovsky's view. The Isles killed that off and got a power play with 40.6 seconds left. Nielsen's two golden chances wouldn't go in, and they got three more good shots in overtime, but failed to convert.
Cam Atkinson's goal in the fourth round of the shootout left the Isles with three points on their opening weekend. That was perhaps what they deserved after a spotty opener in Newark and a more forceful, complete game at home, but the way they earned those points is a reminder that the full three periods is what's needed to be a top-tier team.
"This league is so evenly matched up," Nabokov said. "It's not much difference between winning and losing."