These were the good Islanders, up the ice, carrying the play, possessing and pressuring the puck, creating scoring chances and a two-goal lead.
And then they were just the Islanders, unable to hold a lead, straying from their early-game success by trying to be too cute and then allowing too many odd-man rushes.
And that’s been the problem with this whole season: Too often, there’s no real distinction between which version of the Islanders appears. Too often, as in Monday night’s 4-3 overtime loss at Vancouver, solid starts yield nothing but disappointing results.
So it’s 0-0-2 to start this four-game road trip which continues on Thursday night at Edmonton and 0-4-3 since Feb. 19 as the Islanders do the opposite of making a push for the playoffs.
“Playoff teams find ways to get two points every night,” Jordan Eberle told the media in Vancouver after forcing overtime with a power-play goal at 18:56 of the third period.
The crazy thing is, in an NHL which craves parity, the Islanders’ inability to gain any traction in their pursuit of a playoff spot has not left them without postseason hope.
If only the Islanders could figure out how to be the good Islanders on a consistent 60-minute basis they can be just as good as any of the other wild-card contenders in the Eastern Conference.
The overall trend of this season suggests the Islanders will not be able to figure that out. They have 15 games remaining to prove the critics wrong.
This overtime loss left the Islanders four points behind the Blue Jackets for the second wild-card spot, with Columbus having played one fewer game. It’s a difficult gap to overcome considering the abundance of overtimes that produce three-point games. But not impossible.
The real issue is that the Islanders are also trailing the Hurricanes by two points, with Carolina having a game in hand, and the red-hot Panthers, who have won six straight and are on a 13-3-0 spurt since a 4-1 win over the Islanders at Barclays Center on Jan. 30, by three points with Florida having played a very significant three fewer games.
The rival Rangers, in eighth place in the Metropolitan Division, could still catch the Islanders as well, as they are just one point behind having played one fewer game.
Here are three post-game observations:
1. If the Islanders are to have any chance at beating the odds and reaching the postseason, John Tavares and top-line mates Anders Lee and Josh Bailey must play as they did for much of Monday night’s game.
Tavares and Calder Trophy-candidate Mathew Barzal were easily the best players on the ice for most of the game, at least until the Canucks’ Brendan Leipsic won it by stripping Anthony Beauvillier of the puck in the Islanders’ zone and going around Jaroslav Halak at 2:47 of overtime for his second goal after the goalie came out to challenge him.
Tavares had a goal and an assist and also had an assist in Saturday night’s 3-2 overtime loss at Pittsburgh to snap a five-game scoreless streak.
He was dangerous every time he touched the puck and the Islanders, seeking any reason to have confidence in their game, need that in the worst way.
Bailey, with Lee getting the assist, gave the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 9:51 of the first period and Tavares made it 2-0 at 2:59 of the second.
The trio’s play was reminiscent of their dominant play from earlier this season.
2. Newsday teammate Neil Best, with the team on this Western Canada swing, made an excellent point with this article.
There’s obviously tremendous debate raging among the Islanders’ fan base as to general manager Garth Snow’s ability to lead the organization.
But now that the trade deadline has come and gone, the focus turns to coach Doug Weight’s leadership abilities. The GM has made — or hasn’t made — his moves. Weight, with the group of players he has, must try to find a way to coax some consistency out of them.
3. You can only hope Canucks’ rookie Brock Boeser is OK after leaving Rogers Arena on a stretcher. A clean check by Cal Clutterbuck knocked Boeser into the open door on the Canucks’ bench and Boeser seemed to have hurt his back on the awkward collision. The Canucks said on Tuesday he might miss four weeks.
Before then, though, Barzal was clearly the better of the two Calder Trophy candidates as the NHL’s top rookie. Playing in front of a hometown crowd for the first time in the NHL, Barzal had two assists and had several wow moments working with the stick on his puck.
But he’s also still a rookie and can try to do too much at times. For instance, this first-period sequence that led to his slashing penalty on defenseman Michael Del Zotto.
Barzal, working along the right boards in the Canucks’ zone, passed back and into the middle, where Boeser intercepted the puck and started his team in transition. But Barzal flew down the ice to get a great backcheck in on Del Zotto to break up the Canucks’ chance and get the Islanders going the other way. Then, Barzal, going behind the Canucks’ net, took an unnecessary light slash at Del Zotto.