The Islanders raised their level of play much earlier this season, rattling off a franchise-record 17-game point streak (15-0-2) from Oct. 12-Nov. 23.
That has not been the case in the thick of the playoff race, though. Instead, they’ve stagnated while other teams have improved.
“We have another gear in us,” Derick Brassard said. “It’s just, at this time of the year, it’s your will against their will.”
The Islanders, who will face the Canadiens on Tuesday night at Barclays Center, hold the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and are two points behind the struggling Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division. But they are in a 2-5-2 rut dating, not coincidentally, to losing Casey Cizikas to injury.
Still, coach Barry Trotz said several times this past week that his team is “close” to playing with the consistency it needs.
“It’s close in that we’ve played some really good teams and we’ve put periods or parts of periods together where you’re going toe-to-toe in a man’s game,” Trotz said after Monday’s practice in East Meadow. “So if you stick with it, I know it’s turning. If the group decides maybe we should try something else, this is getting really hard, then it won’t turn.”
“I think he’s right, I think it’s close,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “We just need to find that next level. Everyone has raised their level at this time and we’re playing some really good hockey teams. We’ve been in the games. We just haven’t been able to find that extra push that can get the momentum or make a difference in the game. That’s the difference right now. The good part about that is it doesn’t take a lot to figure out.”
Trotz played somewhat of a stern taskmaster at Monday’s practice, no doubt reflecting the urgency he needs to see in his team. The Islanders have dropped three straight (0-1-2), including Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the NHL-leading Bruins at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, which followed Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss in St. Louis to the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blues.
He stopped the first drill immediately — twice — when the players didn’t follow instructions. He stopped a later drill to admonish the players to make more precise passes.
“Boston was dialed in, they won those loose puck battles,” Trotz said. “We didn’t have a lot of zone time because we didn’t sustain stuff. We didn’t stay in the fight long enough.
“Just because you get punched in the nose doesn’t mean that you throw in the towel,” Trotz added. “You get punched in the nose, you bleed a little bit and you get up and you punch back. We need to punch back a little more, stay in the fight a little longer.”
Notes & quotes: Anders Lee and Cal Clutterbuck were excused from Monday’s practice for personal reasons. Trotz said he expects both to be available against the Canadiens . . . Trotz had no update on Cizikas (left leg laceration) other than he has not resumed skating yet.
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