Sometimes the low-hanging fruit is not so easily harvested. From a failed penalty shot in the game's third minute right through Thursday night's 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, it was a real groaner for the Islanders, one of those frustrating throw-back-your-head, roll-your-eyes kind of games.
Though the Islanders were winning more faceoffs (31-29), outshooting Philadelphia (35-22) and playing crisply, their angst continued to deepen right up to the moment that Philadelphia's Sean Couturier converted a two-on-one break with 1:30 to play for a 3-1 lead.
That John Tavares was able to slip a backhander past Philadelphia goalie Sergei Bobrovsky with 16.8 seconds to play did not much ease the Islanders' discomfort. "Sixteen seconds left," Taveras said. "Too late."
All the Islanders (15-20-6) seemed to get for their considerable effort was that thumping sound of their shots off the pads of Bobrovsky; the tantalizing sight of loose pucks just out of reach in scrambles on Bobrovsky's doorstep; the maddening sight, over and over again, of swift Michael Grabner bursting in alone on Bobrovsky but failing to score.
Kyle Okposo's 10th goal just 22 seconds into the third cut Philadelphia's lead to 2-1. The Islanders repeatedly came within a whisker of tying the score as Bobrovsky made a reflex save on Tavares, steaming through the left circle, with 8:23 to go; smothered Frans Nielsen's deflection of Travis Hamonic's blue-line pass with 6:12 left, and sticked aside Steve Staios' blast with 4:25 to go.
"When you play as well as we did," defenseman Andrew MacDonald said, "you'd think we'd come out on top."
Coach Jack Capuano pronounced himself "pleased with the team's effort." But the contagion of near-goals that began with Bobrovsky's pad save on Grabner's early penalty shot -- when the door first appeared wide open for the Islanders to sprint through -- merely spread.
With the Islanders shorthanded, Grabner burst across the Philadelphia blue line alone and, as he shot wide, was hooked from behind by Kimmo Timonen. Then he was beaten by Bobrovsky on the subsequent penalty shot (and later was robbed by Bobrovsky's sprawling glove save).
"That penalty shot in the first period," Islanders captain Mark Streit said, "if he makes it, it gives us confidence."
Instead, at 17:20 of the first -- a half-minute after Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov was penalized for tripping Matt Carle as Carle barreled through the crease and flipped a shot high -- Scott Hartnell deftly deflected Jaromir Jagr's blue-line shot past Nabokov for a 1-0 lead.
That power-play score was less disheartening than Philadelphia's second score at 13:08 of the second. After Nabokov twice fanned on attempts to move the puck out of danger, Philadelphia wing Wayne Simmonds, in the left corner, fired from an impossible angle and watched the puck sneak past Nabokov.
"A bad mistake," Nabokov said. "We were playing with a lot of energy, a lot of jump. But that's hockey."
Ripe with frustration.