CHICAGO - The Islanders' first four-game losing streak of the season is certainly enough cause for concern, with the playoffs just a few weeks away.
How they reached four straight defeats is even more concerning. The Isles dropped a 4-1 decision to the Blackhawks Tuesday night, a game in which the players themselves wondered why they didn't come out with more aggression and were essentially done after mustering only one shot on goal during a five-minute power play in the second period while down two goals.
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"The first half of the game was just . . . I don't know why we're not engaged. We just didn't do anything well," said John Tavares, who went a fourth straight game without a point and was on the ice for all four Chicago goals. "We looked slow, we were watching them play, losing battles."
Jonathan Toews scored twice in the opening period, once at 7:01 from below the goal line after Tavares and Kyle Okposo couldn't connect on a play to get out of the defensive zone. Toews' second, at 16:04, came off the rush as he walked through space and flipped a backhand off Michal Neuvirth's shoulder and in.
Even with that deficit after a lousy first period, the Islanders had a chance to revive just 5:30 into the second when Andrew Shaw head-butted Brock Nelson to draw a major penalty, ejection and almost certainly a hearing with NHL player safety.
But instead of seizing the momentum, the Islanders handed it back to Chicago with only one shot on Corey Crawford and barely any set time in the Blackhawks' zone. Marian Hossa zipped a shot past Neuvirth 3:25 after the major ended, which basically did the Islanders in.
"It's the turning point of the game," Jack Capuano said. "A killer. It didn't do anything for us. Nothing."
Hossa scored again 57 seconds into the third, with Nikolay Kulemin breaking Crawford's shutout at 5:29. The Islanders pumped 39 shots on Crawford but managed only a single goal for the fourth straight game, and they are 1-for-14 on the power play in those four games, with the five-minute major counting as one missed opportunity.
The Penguins' loss Tuesday night kept the Isles in second in the Metro for the time being, but things are tightening up below them in the Eastern Conference standings. The Caps are four points back with a game in hand; the Bruins, holding the second wild-card spot, are seven points back with two games in hand. Even the Senators, sitting outside the playoff race, are 11 points back with three games in hand.
The Islanders have three practice days until they play the Devils in Newark on Saturday. There's time to get themselves right headed into the postseason, but not much.
After such a strong first 46 games to the season, the Islanders have dipped to 12-11-3 since the All-Star break. This is their first major bout of adversity and their response to it will be telling.
"We've got to see some guys play with a little more grit, a little more desperation in their game," Capuano said. "You can't wait around for it to happen."