If only the Islanders could pin their continuing defensive woes on the inexperienced lineup they fielded Friday night.
Facing the lethal Sharks at the Coliseum, the Isles made too many mistakes in their own zone in a 4-3 loss. With 11 dressed players either rookies or second-year NHLers, perhaps those errors were to be expected.
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But what about the rest of this season? The Islanders have allowed 232 goals, most in the league. Friday night marked the 31st time in 68 games they allowed at least four goals, including the eighth time in the last 10 games.
"There's learning there, and they're learning the tough way," coach Jack Capuano said. "You could see that in a couple of the goals-against tonight. I am a little surprised that, at times, we give up a limited number of chances but they end up in the back of our net."
A couple of the young Islanders were culpable.
With the Sharks leading 2-1 in the second period, Matt Donovan tried a flip pass out of the zone when facing pressure, but San Jose's Brent Burns jumped to catch the puck and turn the play around. Evgeni Nabokov stopped Burns' shot, but Joe Thornton was on the spot for an easy rebound goal and restored the Islanders' two-goal deficit.
After Donovan's nifty pass-shot that Brock Nelson redirected home to make it 3-2, Ryan Strome made a soft clearing play and then lost position, allowing Marty Havlat room to snap a shot past Nabokov to make it 4-2 in the second.
Frans Nielsen cut the deficit to one with 21.4 seconds to go in the third, but the Islanders didn't get much going until the waning minutes against a Sharks team that played stronger with the lead.
"They're experienced and they're disciplined, that's the bottom line," said Nabokov, who faced his former team for the first time after making 563 appearances in 10 seasons with San Jose. "I thought we played well, but they're not an easy team to play against."
There were some bright spots among the Isles' bevy of youngsters. Anders Lee scored his sixth goal in eight games, a net-driving backhand that got the Isles on the board early in the second. Nelson's deflection gave him 12 goals, tied for fourth on the team.
But the growing pains in the defensive zone continue. And they're not all about youth.
"This is kind of how it's been lately," said Kyle Okposo, whose two assists gave him a team-leading 67 points this season. "We haven't made a ton of mistakes, but they've cost us."
Notes & quotes: Johan Sundstrom played 10:28 in his NHL debut, the eighth Islanders rookie to play this season. Defenseman Kevin Czuczman, who signed Tuesday, might make his NHL debut Saturday night against the Sabres.