It feels as though Islanders fans might want to get out the magnifying glass. Read the fine print and you'll see that the rookies are being allowed to stretch their legs a bit. There will be no playoffs, but the team's current streak of scoring a point in seven consecutive games is its most successful of the season.
Saturday night was a 4-3 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals at the Coliseum after the Islanders had led 3-1 halfway through the second period.
But look at the bright(er) side: a 5-0-2 run in the Islanders' last seven games. They played hard if not with complete efficiency. They played on even terms through the third period, which has not been kind to them this season.
"I think the coaches are going to keep us motivated," Matt Martin said. "The young guys make the pressure and the older guys want to keep their jobs. We wish we were in a playoff hunt, but we still want to win as many games down the road as we can."
There's no going back to before they lost 15 of 17 games early in the season. They are 31-35-11. Period.
There's no turning the clock back to the days when a game stopped after a regulation tie, sparing one team from losing what felt like it shouldn't be a loss.
"You know, to be honest with you, I don't care," said Evgeni Nabokov, who was beaten by Evgeny Kuznetsov with a high shot on Washington's first shootout attempt. "Take the point," Nabokov said.
Washington's Braden Holtby stopped all three Islanders attempts -- by Frans Nielsen, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson -- in the shootout, an exercise akin to playing on the railroad tracks with a good chance of being hit by a train.
It could be said that the Islanders' 38-29 edge in shots on goal was a fair indication of their effort.
Casey Cizikas' scrappy pursuit behind Washington's net and nifty backhand pass set up the Islanders' first goal, by Cal Clutterbuck at 12:55 of the first. Kuznetsov tied it early in the second, but two minutes later, defenseman Travis Hamonic's right-wing rush and precise feed led to rookie John Persson's first NHL goal in only his fifth game.
Nielsen cracked a power-play shot past Holtby's left toe at 9:55 of the second for a 3-1 Islanders lead.
The Islanders were 1-for-3 with the man advantage and Washington was 0-for-5. But an old sensation -- their lead going kablooey -- hit the Islanders three minutes later.
As rookie defenseman Calvin de Haan and Washington's Alex Ovechkin raced for the puck behind the Islanders' goal, the resulting crash left de Haan crawling toward the net and, on his knees, being hit in the chest by Ovechkin's shot. De Haan's bravery was unreasonably punished as the puck caromed to Nicklas Backstrom in the right circle for a wacky score.
In the next instant, Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey hit the post and Holtby had to sit on the rebound to prevent more trouble. Which only led to a loose puck in the Islanders' zone that found Washington wing Joel Ward floating in the slot. Grateful, Ward peppered it past the helpless Nabokov. 3-3.
So what's left for the Islanders? Chasing rainbows? Looking for a four-leaf clover? Five games to go.