Michael Grabner-Frans Nielsen-Josh Bailey line delivers for Islanders
There might not be many outside the Islanders' dressing room who think the team still has a chance to turn this season around. But the players think they can.
After two of the tougher losses the Islanders have had this season, they limp into Madison Square Garden for Friday night's game with the Rangers on a 1-9-4 slide. They have tightened up in plenty of areas in the past two games, but they still haven't found a way to win in regulation in more than a month.
"It certainly doesn't feel good right now with the results we've had, but things are eventually going to go the right way," Brian Strait said. "It's hard to swallow these past two games, but defensively we've been good. There's no time to linger on things."
The Islanders had consecutive practice days for the first time since the last week of November to try to preserve the better parts of those two previous games -- a 1-0 overtime loss to the Canadiens and an inexplicable 3-2 shootout loss to the Lightning -- and work on correcting the breakdowns that led to dropping the extra point in each game.
One of the bright spots is the work of the Michael Grabner-Frans Nielsen-Josh Bailey line. Grabner led the team with seven hits in the loss to Montreal and the line generated a half- dozen scoring chances against Tampa Bay, including two first-period breakaways for Bailey and a pair of two-on-ones.
Nielsen scored on the last two-on-one off a feed from Grabner. It was Grabner's first point in 25 games. Bailey also got an assist, his first point in 12 games.
"We could have had six goals as a line in that game," said Grabner, who still doesn't have a goal since scoring twice in the season opener, a span of 31 games. "We've been playing better, but now we need the points, and we can start on Friday in the Garden."
Nielsen made an egregious giveaway that led to the first of Valtteri Fippula's goals in the final 2:53 to tie it on Tuesday, but no one thinks Nielsen, among the most responsible Islanders forwards, has a real problem in his own zone.
"I would bet Fransie never does that again," Grabner said. "Never."
The Islanders had one of a handful of key turning points last season at the Garden, rallying from two goals down to take a 4-3 shootout decision from the Rangers on Valentine's Day.
Of course, that was only game 12 of the shortened 48-game season. This season's Islanders have 47 games left, but close to the halfway mark, the Isles were 10 points out of a playoff spot entering Thursday night's games.
"Once we can break through and win a game in regulation, I think we'll go on a run," Grabner said. "It's time to get going."