The Islanders have described their last two meetings with the Capitals as "playoff-style games" — which is good, in a certain way, because there’s every possibility they’ll meet the Capitals in the postseason and dress rehearsals this late in the proceedings are always useful.
But it’s certainly bad in the bigger, more important way, in that, you know, they lost both.
Which is why Barry Trotz is going into Tuesday’s season series finale against the Capitals with a new look, and a renewed hope that some switched-up personnel can provide the cohesiveness the Islanders require.
"We’re looking at moving lines around," Trotz said Monday after practice. "I’m going to have some lineup changes for sure just because I think it’ll add some freshness to it and put some urgency into the group."
In addition, he said there would be some movement in the No. 1 line — most recently, the one of Mathew Barzal, Travis Zajac and Jordan Eberle — with the possible reintroduction of Leo Komarov.
The Islanders lost, 6-3, to the Capitals on Saturday — four goals that Trotz said his team just gave up and two that were let in by Ilya Sorokin. Before that game, they lost to them, 1-0, in a shootout.
"In this league, there’s not much room for not being mentally really sharp and in our game, we weren’t mentally sharp, and therefore, you don’t have much of a game," Trotz said. "If you break down the game, we still were — you know, they got off to a pretty good start and . . . we lost too many battles when it started, and you end up in your own end when you lose too many battles."
"There’s times I can show you — many times they had two guys in the corner, we had three and they come out with the puck. That’s just not winning hockey. So it’s a little bit of the battle and a little bit of our execution, and we didn’t have a deliberate game. We just needed to have a more deliberate game."
The result was a disjointed effort, replete with a sputtering offense, loose defensive play, poor goaltending and lackluster puck management. The Islanders sit four points behind the division-leading Penguins and three behind the Capitals when, just two games ago, they were vying for first place. The Capitals have won five of their seven meetings with the Islanders.
One thing Trotz wasn’t overly concerned about was Sorokin’s play, calling the rookie netminder’s Saturday just a bad day. Trotz generally doesn’t disclose the next day’s goalie, but he does have the option of Semyon Varlamov in net. Varlamov has had a slightly more successful season than Sorokin, allowing an average of 2.12 goals to Sorokin’s 2.25. Varlamov struggled against the Capitals early in the season but was in goal for both of the Islanders' victories against them.
"He really works at his game, so I really don’t think he’s going to have an issue at all," Trotz said of Sorokin. "I think they understand goaltending is your last line of defense and some nights, when you’re a little bit off, it comes to the forefront probably more . . . I don’t have any concern but if it was three, four, five games in a row, then I would."