The Islanders certainly didn’t play like a first-place team.
Which is why they remained in third place in the East Division after a 6-3 loss to the Capitals on Saturday night before a sell-out crowd of 1,400 at Nassau Coliseum. Rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin gave up two questionable goals, and turnovers and loose defense played a part in the other four as the Islanders were outscored, 6-0, in five-on-five play.
It negated a 2-for-2 power play and defenseman Adam Pelech’s highlight-reel shorthanded goal.
"We just didn’t have enough guys that were in our lineup that were going tonight," coach Barry Trotz said.
The first-place Capitals also won a 1-0 shootout at the Coliseum on Thursday. The teams conclude their three-game series on Tuesday night in Washington.
The Capitals, who played without Alex Ovechkin (lower-body injury), are one point ahead of the second-place Penguins and three points up on the Islanders (29-14-5). All three teams have eight games remaining.
Sorokin made 24 saves. But he gave up a soft goal as Garnet Hathaway opened the scoring at 2:33 of the first period on a shot from the left wall that beat him to the short side. Sorokin let in another softy on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s shot from the right circle that went under his right arm to make it 5-3 at 7:35 of the third period.
"It’s a team game," said Jean-Gabriel Pageau, whose line with Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey was easily the Islanders’ best and whose backhand swat for a power-play goal cut the Capitals’ lead to 4-3 at 17:12 of the second period. "We win as a team, we lose as a team. I think we’re all disappointed the way we came out. It’s a home game for us. It’s very important, here, how we come out. The nice thing is we have a chance to go back to Washington and play them there and, hopefully, steal the two points like they did here."
The Islanders had been 1-for-15 on the man advantage the last five games. Beauvillier’s power-play goal at 14:28 of the first period brought the Islanders within 2-1.
"I just felt like, at times, we weren’t necessarily connected," said Pelech, who raced the puck all the way up ice and beat Ilya Samsonov through his pads with a blue-line slap shot to tie the game at 2 at 7:37 of the second period with his first career shorthanded goal.
"I thought we were kind of all over the place at times," Pelech added. "We weren’t playing our game, which is really predictable hockey. Five guys working as a unit up and down the ice. We got away from that and if you’re getting into those track-meet type of games, especially against a team like Washington, we’re just not going to win very many of them."
Ilya Samsonov stopped 21 shots after making 26 saves on Thursday, with Pelech’s shorthanded tally one he should have stopped.
The Islanders quickly fell behind by two goals again after Pelech’s tally.
Nic Dowd got to the crease to lift a rebound over Sorokin – playing deep in his crease – to make it 3-2 at 12:21. That became 4-2 at 14:46 as Daniel Sprong, playing in Ovechkin’s spot on the first line, converted a feed to the crease from Kuznetsov after Mathew Barzal’s neutral-zone turnover. Sprong also capped the scoring at 14:43 of the third period after the Islanders iced the puck.
Sorokin couldn’t be faulted on the Capitals’ second goal at 10:55 of the first period. Casey Cizikas lost his defensive assignment, allowing T.J. Oshie to get to the crease for Nicklas Backstrom’s feed.