The Islanders flew home on Monday without much time to regroup after their New Year’s Eve nightmare in Denver. But there was enough time to make a couple of roster moves in hopes of lighting a spark among the team’s bottom two forward lines.
Upon returning home, the Islanders sent forwards Steve Bernier and Anthony Beauvillier to Bridgeport and called up Tanner Fritz, a 26-year-old undrafted right wing who leads the Sound Tigers in scoring this season.
Sunday’s 6-1 debacle, which featured 48 Avalanche shots on two Islanders goaltenders and coach Doug Weight’s ejection for cursing out referees Steve Kozari and Chris Rooney late in the second period, certainly was one to forget. But it was just the latest game in which the Islanders got almost no push from their bottom-six forwards, who have produced three goals in the last nine games.
Offense hasn’t been the main issue in the Isles’ 5-8-2 slide through December. Their porous team defense and goaltending, which has allowed 3.54 goals per game (tied for most in the league with the last-overall Coyotes), has been the main issue.
But as the team has given up more goals and shots on goal in the past few weeks, the Islanders’ possession numbers have fallen.
Through the end of November, the Isles were at 50.6 percent of the total even-strength shots for and against and were plus-11 (57-46) in even-strength goals as they posted a 15-7-2 record.
In December, that shot percentage dropped to 46.8 and the Isles were minus-7 (31-38) in goals at even strength. Their even-strength save percentage dropped from .921 to .906.
“These are the tough times of the year, the middle of the season, and there’s lots of breaks,” assistant coach Luke Richardson said Sunday (Weight did not address reporters after his ejection). “Christmas break, now our five-day break [Jan. 8-13], then the All-Star break, and we have to make sure we stay mentally sharp. Not let these distractions become distractions, be professional, show up every day to do your job, every shift. It’s a learning point for us.”
With four games in the next six days beginning with a visit from the red-hot Bruins on Tuesday, the Isles have to find more consistency beyond the John Tavares and Mathew Barzal lines. So out went Bernier, the 32-year-old veteran who was called up 16 days ago and played four games.
In a bit of a surprise, out too went Beauvillier. The 20-year-old had a strong rookie year as a teenager, posting nine goals and 15 assists last season. But with Barzal’s emergence and a more set top two lines, he struggled to find ice time and offense, with four goals and three assists in 31 games. This is his first trip to the AHL.
Fritz signed a minor-league deal with the Isles in 2015 after four years at Ohio State and has 89 points in 111 AHL games. It’s a relatively small move, but the Islanders are looking for something to pull them back together.
“We didn’t have our best for whatever reason,” John Tavares said on Sunday. “It’s disappointing. Starting with myself, we’ve got to look in the mirror. We’ve got a big week ahead and we’ve got to challenge ourselves to be better.”