NASHVILLE — The Islanders arrived at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night with only two games left against the Western Conference — and an impressive 19-5-2 record against teams from the other side of the standings aisle.
Unfortunately for them, the Western opponent waiting for them here was the Predators, who entered the game on a 10-1-5 streak. Then they demonstrated how they have done it.
They defeated the Islanders, 4-2, complicating the visitors’ ongoing battle for Metropolitan Division playoff positioning.
“We were outplayed, plain and simple,” John Tavares said after managing not a single shot on goal, missed shot or blocked shot. “It starts with me. It’s disappointing the way we came out.
“This week hasn’t been very kind to us in the way we’ve played, and we obviously haven’t been rewarded for it.”
Among other problems, the Islanders continued a recent pattern of slow starts, getting outscored 1-0 and outshot 12-6 in the first period. The shots were 17-6 early in the second.
“We have to come out flying and try to get that first goal,” Johnny Boychuk said, “but lately it has been the opposite, where they come out and get the first goal. We have to be better at the start.”
Said Brock Nelson, “There’s no excuse, really — just try to come out and play hard right away.”
Playing without the injured Casey Cizikas, who missed a game for the first time this season, and Mikhail Grabovski, the Islanders saw the Predators take the lead 9:15 in on James Neal’s goal.
Ryan Pulock tied it at 6:02 of the second period with his first NHL goal, a wrist shot from the point on which Tavares screened Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.
It was not long before the Predators took back the lead on a power-play goal by Ryan Ellis at 8:13. Cal Clutterbuck had been called for tripping Roman Josi.
That was the only power play of the game for the Predators, which was one more than the Islanders had.
Only 1:41 later, Neal sent a nifty pass to Ryan Johansen, who stormed alone toward the goal and beat Thomas Greiss high. The second assist on that goal went to Anthony Bitetto, who is from Island Park.
Nelson, a healthy scratch in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, made it 3-2 at 1:55 of the third, skating alone through most of the Nashville players on the ice to beat Rinne. But the Islanders managed only two shots on goal in the period before the Predators put it away with an empty-net goal.
Afterward, coach Jack Capuano seemed exasperated on a number of levels. “It’s been the same theme for us: It’s the common denominator that we try to make the sexy play and we don’t want to get pucks to the net,” he said. “Give them a lot of credit: Every time they got an opportunity, the puck was on net, and that’s how you create zone time.”
Capuano, who had to juggle lines in the absences of Grabovski and Cizikas, also said, “Right now, the balance of our lines, it’s not where it needs to be. We’re not getting secondary scoring . . . If we’re not getting some secondary scoring from other guys, it’s going to be tough. You have to score in this league to win.”