NEWARK — If the Islanders were to try and fill what they’re lacking at the trading deadline Monday, what should they add? The way the past week has gone, it is not such an easy puzzle to solve. It is not just one position or one commodity, but rather the ability to take a game by the throat and hold onto it.
They let another lead go in the third period on Saturday, allowing Kyle Palmieri to score twice and letting the Devils win a vital game, 2-1, at Prudential Center. It was the third consecutive defeat for the Islanders and their second in three nights in which they played well, just not well enough to win.
“It’s just making a play here and there, finishing off your opportunities. Just one or two plays,” said John Tavares, who was held scoreless again, as he had been in a shootout loss in Toronto Thursday.
Jordan Eberle, who had given the Islanders the 1-0 lead at 3:55 of the second, said, “Especially because it was a third-period comeback. It’s deflating. We had a great opportunity to start moving up and you get a game like that, it knocks you back a little bit. It’s frustrating. I don’t really know to say it. We’ve got to find a way to pick ourselves up here and keep going.”
The Islanders fell two points behind Columbus for the second and final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and they are now seven points behind the Devils, who are in the first wild card position (they are just five points out of first place in the division). So, this loss hurt the Islanders’ chances more than most losses have.
Unlike the situation in recent weeks, weaknesses did not jump out at you. It used to be just a matter of poor goaltending or weak defense or too many shots. None of those was the case Saturday night, when Jaroslav Halak stopped 31 of the 33 Devils shots, to 30 of 31 by Keith Kinkaid at the other end. What do you fix?
“Is there really an answer to that? We’ve got to score, we’ve got to get the big goal to get the two-goal lead,” Doug Weight said. “I mean, they get a good bounce off the boards. We were in good spots all night. We’ve got to find a way to get results. We’ve got to keep digging. We’re still in the neighborhood. It’s a real humbling, tough loss.”
The start was tepid on both sides after a long, rambling number-retirement ceremony for Patrik Elias lasted nearly an hour-and-a-half, which was about 20 minutes longer than scheduled. The Islanders had to wait it out in their locker room, the Devils sat in chairs on the ice. Not a good way to prepare for a game that began around 8:30 p.m. It was scoreless, without a lot of big chances either way in the first period.
Mathew Barzal injected excitement in the second when he lost and regained the puck in his own zone, sped up ice and passed to Anthony Beauvillier, who fed Eberle in front. Barzal’s assist was his 49th.
It was a different story in the third, when Palmieri wiped out the 1-0 lead and put the Devils up by one. The first was a shot on the move, fired between Johnny Boychuk and Sebastian Aho at 6:35, the next was a redirection of Sami Vatanen’s right-point shot at 11:11. Taylor Hall had two assists and extended his points streak to 21 games.
Tavares blamed himself for the second goal, saying that Palmieri was his responsibility and that he failed to tie up the forward’s stick.
Still, it was not a game filled with Islanders gaffes. It was a bunch of subtle intangibles that were just not there. Where do you start to correct those?
“It’s hard to say,” said Adam Pelech, who made a big backcheck to thwart a breakaway in the second. “I think just executing in the third period. I thought the last two games we played pretty well. We just didn’t get the results that we wanted.”