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Isles have an excuse, even if they won't use it

Chad Johnson and Johnny Boychuk of the New

Chad Johnson and Johnny Boychuk of the New York Islanders look on after surrendering the fifth goal of the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders were too proud and too professional to make excuses about being worn down. So we will do it for them: Eighteen games in 33 days is bound to take its toll on you. Sooner or later, you're going to play the kind of stinker they played Saturday night.

In one way or another, the players said it was their fault for not having the jump you need to beat any team in the National Hockey League, even one such as Carolina, which is clearly in seller mode.

Fair enough. They were lackluster. But this is what you get in a league that offers its teams two vacations during the middle of the schedule, one at Christmas and one for the All-Star break.

Games pile up. Some nights, your guys are not going to have enough gas to get on top of the pile. And they predictably say, as Matt Martin did Saturday night after the 5-3 loss to the non-playoff-bound Hurricanes: "It stings because this is one we needed to win. I don't think we can use a hectic schedule as an excuse."

Sure you can, but it is not polite to do so. Anyway, the Islanders have been good this season at taking their many successes (41 victories) in stride. Their job now is to be just as placid after a dud. This defeat wasn't part of a trend. It was just one bad game.

"You're going to have nights like that," Jack Capuano said. "It's an 82-game schedule and I can count on one hand the number of times certain guys didn't have the legs. We were still in it, though. We were still right there. We made our push, the crowd was in it. It's 3-2. The game was right there. We just let it slip away from us."

He was referring to the short-lived momentum generated by Nikolay Kulemin's goal at 15:11 of the second period, and the fact that the Islanders allowed two goals in the final 2:14 of the period, including one with only eight seconds left.

If there is any issue that should linger from last evening (the game started at the odd time of 5 p.m.), it was that the latter goal -- by Michal (no "e") Jordan -- came against the Islanders' beleaguered penalty-killing unit. In fact, it was the second power-play goal allowed by the team that entered the game as the NHL's worst penalty-killing team.

"I thought we were aggressive. We just made a couple key errors,'' Capuano said. "We've just got to stay focused every time we hit the ice on the penalty kill."

As wary as the Islanders are about giving up anything before the trading deadline Monday, it sure wouldn't hurt if they let loose a couple of middling future draft picks for someone who could help in shorthanded situations. We're not talking Butch Goring (although he was an excellent penalty-killer), just some veteran who can win a key faceoff and play with savvy.

Overall, though, the picture is not bleak. The final 18 regular-season games will be spread out over a civilized 42 days. And the loss to the Hurricanes should be treated as yesterday's news.

Yes, we know that the visitors also had played Friday night, that they had to travel and that they were so short that they had to wait for their sixth defenseman to arrive separately in late afternoon. Former Islander Jack Hillen joined them just before game time and played a solid 17:18.

Sure, the Hurricanes played a spirited game. Teams usually do toward the end of the season when they don't have the pressure of the playoffs wearing them down. No surprise there. The Islanders have been in that role numerous times, as recently as last season.

Saturday night notwithstanding, the Islanders are in a much better spot now.

New York Sports