The Islanders had the right energy, the right effort, the right balance of physical play and discipline Tuesday night against the Penguins.
But they got the wrong result. Another 0-for-7 night on the power play helped lead to a second straight loss at the Coliseum. The 4-2 win by the Penguins was a far cry from Sunday's 3-0 loss to the Devils, but even though they were the better team for long stretches against Pittsburgh, the Isles still came away with a 4-4-1 record heading into Thursday's game with the Rangers.
"I thought we were desperate, we tried everything," said Mark Streit, the quarterback of a power play that is now on an 0-for-14 skid after starting the season 9-for-24. "We have to work even harder to score."
The Isles broke through after Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (32 saves) kept them at bay for a little more than two periods. Michael Grabner and Brad Boyes scored at close range, 35 seconds apart, to pull the Isles within 3-2 with 16:11 to go. The Islanders kept coming, getting their seventh and final power-play chance with 6:28 to play, but they kept coming up short.
Matt Moulson, who had a team-high five shots, was denied from in close by Fleury on the power play, the last good chance of the night.
The problem this time wasn't even-strength play. With some adjusted lines, the Islanders were aggressive from the start, particularly the Moulson-John Tavares-Boyes line, but Fleury and some unlucky bounces kept the Islanders off the board.
"The second and third chances after some quality shots didn't break right for us," Tavares said. The Isles had a four-on-two rush early in the third that could have produced a chance, but a centering feed for Tavares was behind him; it went the other way and Brandon Sutter buried a wrist shot under Evgeni Nabokov's arm for a 3-0 Pittsburgh lead.
The Isles were behind quickly on James Neal's power-play goal just 2:58 in, but the Islanders controlled the play from then until the closing minutes of the second, with Colin McDonald getting under Penguins' skins after a big, clean hit on Sidney Crosby and some overzealous physical play by the visitors led to six Islanders power plays.
After the sixth, the Penguins' Simon Despres beat Nabokov (22 saves) from the high slot to make it 2-0, leaving the home side and the home crowd deflated.
"We can't get discouraged," said Nabokov, who was not as sharp as he had been in recent outings. "I thought we did a lot of good things, made them take some penalties. Sometimes, the puck doesn't go in."
There wasn't much of a push in the closing minutes and Pascal Dupuis' empty-netter with 39 seconds left sealed it.
The crucial stretch of Atlantic Division games has the Isles 1-2-0 heading into Madison Square Garden Thursday night to face a struggling Rangers team. If the Isles lose three straight, they will be staring up at nearly the entire division, barely a week after their win over the Devils had them in a tie for first.
"I'm happy with the energy, with the work ethic the guys showed," Jack Capuano said. "It's not good enough, I realize that. But everybody gave us quality minutes."