DENVER — If the Islanders sent 2017 out with a bang, it was only from the sound of doors slamming in the visitors’ room at the Pepsi Center.
The Isles were thrashed, 6-1, by the Avalanche on Sunday. The only noise they made was when Doug Weight was ejected for cursing out veteran referees Steve Kozari and Chris Rooney in the second period after Colorado’s fourth goal.
Weight ostensibly was annoyed by an interference call on Adam Pelech that led to Gabriel Landeskog’s power-play goal at 16:35 of the second. However, assistant coach Luke Richardson, speaking in Weight’s place after the game, said the head coach was looking to light a fire under his underwhelming team.
“He wanted to show some passion,” Richardson said. “Some of the frustration as a whole, our team got out-battled from one end to the other. Your leader’s got to show the passion if it wasn’t there, and Doug did that. Sometimes it’s extreme, but in a game like this, we have to be extreme.”
The Islanders closed out December with a 5-8-2 record for the month, dropping them onto the very edge of the Eastern Conference playoff race as the season nears its midpoint. They lead Carolina by one point for the final wild card.
They also have lost six straight (0-5-1) on the road, and this one ended in a flurry of home sweaters flying through and around Jaroslav Halak in the second period.
Colorado scored four times on 23 shots that reached Halak and the Avalanche had a 36-15 edge in shot attempts in the second, turning a 1-0 game into a 5-0 rout.
The Islanders struggled in just about every facet of the game, but most particularly in keeping Halak’s area free from Avalanche forwards, who scored all four second-period goals from within 15 feet.
“They won the net front; that was the biggest thing,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “Whether it’s PK, five-on-five, we’ve got to win those stick battles — body position, physicality, that all goes into it, and it wasn’t there tonight. It’s just not acceptable.”
Halak mercifully was pulled after 40 minutes and 35 shots faced, and Josh Bailey snapped Jonathan Bernier’s shutout with 7:36 to play.
But the Islanders’ issues, from falling behind by multiple goals to allowing opposing teams to create great scoring chances to simply not exiting their own zone smoothly, have not gone away. They allowed six goals for the fifth time in the last 15 games.
“We didn’t seem as hungry on the puck as they were,” John Tavares said. “Just not winning enough battles, that led to us not creating a whole lot. They came out hard, skated well, and we didn’t have our best for whatever reason. 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.”
Beginning Tuesday, the Islanders have four games in six days (before their five-day break begins on Jan. 8), with the Bruins, Penguins and Devils coming to Barclays Center and a trip to Philadelphia sandwiched in there. Johnny Boychuk likely is out until after the break and Calvin de Haan isn’t coming back, so the defense has to be more forceful than it was on Sunday.
Sebastian Aho made his NHL debut and played with confidence, but he got muscled around in the slot along with his fellow defensemen.
“Guys have got to step up,” Mayfield said. “We preach about having eight D and depth in Bridgeport, all that stuff. It’s time to show it now. It’s not words anymore, it’s actions. Aho came up, tough game for him to go into, it [expletive] for him. It’s something we have to step up — young guys, veterans, everyone. Our back end needs to be better.”