The Islanders considered Tuesday night’s loss in Washington a missed opportunity. Thursday night’s loss was a blown one.
The depleted Capitals erased a three-goal first-period deficit with five goals in the second period — including four in a span of 5 minutes, 9 seconds against shaky goaltender Semyon Varlamov — and the Islanders lost their third straight to start this five-game road trip, 6-3, at Capital One Arena.
"I would say it’s a combination of a little bit of confidence and we can get our grind a little higher," coach Barry Trotz said. "Our confidence, a little bit, has been rattled and we need to pull that together."
And because it’s never too early to start worrying about the standings in a shortened 56-game season, the Islanders (3-4-0) already are seven points behind the first-place Capitals in the East Division.
"Yeah, it’s adversity," said fourth-line center Casey Cizikas, who earned his first point of the season when he scored to make it 2-0 at 10:08 of the first period, just 18 seconds after rookie Oliver Wahlstrom scored his first NHL goal. "You need to fight through it and come out the other end. We have a veteran group here that can pull through this and we believe in each other."
Trotz delivered his promised lineup shake-up after Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Capitals on Justin Schultz’s goal with 26.4 seconds left in regulation. He placed Wahlstrom and fellow rookie Kieffer Bellows on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line and elevated Leo Komarov to Brock Nelson’s line with Josh Bailey while Anthony Beauvillier (lower body) is on injured reserve.
Still, there were not enough bodies in front of Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek (27 saves) and Nelson’s line still is not productive — or dangerous — enough. Though the Islanders held an 11-1 shot advantage in the third period, too much came from the outside and there was little sustained attack.
"It’s a tough time to have a bad start," said Anders Lee, who made it 3-0 with a power-play goal at 17:39 of the first period as he played in his 500th NHL game. "There’s no excuse for that and we’ve got to right the ship right away."
The ship looked righted through 20 minutes. Unfortunately for the Islanders, it’s a 60-minute game, and they reverted to the type of play that led Trotz to question whether his team had the needed "playoff mentality" on Tuesday.
The Capitals, who have not lost in regulation, still were without Alex Ovechkin, No. 1 goalie Ilya Samsonov, Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman Dmitry Orlov as they remain in COVID-19 protocol. Center Lars Eller was hurt Tuesday, though top-line right wing Tom Wilson did return to the Capitals’ lineup.
Conor Sheary pulled the Capitals within 3-2, scoring twice in 73 seconds. He connected from the low slot at 9:07 of the second period, then deflected Zdeno Chara’s shot from the left point at 10:20.
Garnet Hathaway tied it at 3 at 11:11 on a shot from the right that Varlamov just whiffed on.
Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech then whiffed on a clearing attempt, leading to John Carlson’s power-play goal as the Capitals took a 4-3 lead at 14:16.
Chara completed the second-period onslaught with a blast from the left point at 18:30.
Varlamov (17 saves), who entered the game with a 1.00 goals-against average and .966 save percentage, allowed the five goals on 14 second-period shots.
Wilson scored an empty-net, power-play goal at 19:41 of the third period.
"We got off to a really good start," left wing Matt Martin said. "We had a two-minute span in the second that really hurt us. We have the utmost confidence that we’re going to figure it out and start winning games."