NEWARK -- They didn't start well and they certainly didn't finish well. For a team that professes to be in a playoff chase, the Islanders' desperation level rose for only about a 15-minute stretch of the second period in their 5-1 loss to the Devils Thursday night.
And that was long enough only to cut a 2-0 deficit to 2-1. Once the third period got under way, the Devils were dumping pucks, cycling around the Islanders and creating offense.
The final indicated a rout, which it wasn't, considering the Devils scored five times on only 20 shots, with three of the goals from Ilya Kovalchuk, who was by far the best player on the ice.
But it did reveal the Islanders' inability to be aggressive from the outset and stay that way until the end. And that hurts far more than a four-goal loss.
"Our chances are dwindling here, and every game we lose, we're that much closer to being out of it," said Andrew MacDonald, who banked a shot off Martin Brodeur at 16:21 of the second for the Isles' lone goal. "We can't afford to be losing games like this."
Jack Capuano was a bit stupefied, seeing as how his team gave up only 11 shots through 40 minutes but still began to dictate the tempo and hunt down on the forecheck only after Kovalchuk's second goal, a one-timed rocket past Evgeni Nabokov on the power play at 3:33 of the second.
"It's mind-boggling the way we didn't execute," Capuano said. "You give up 11 shots to that team, you're doing something right . . . We had some guys, quite frankly, that were invisible."
The only Islander benched was Matt Martin, who barely played in the third period. Marty Reasoner went just 2-for-8 on faceoffs and took a penalty. Jay Pandolfo missed a golden scoring chance early and was going to be whistled for a minor in the third when Patrik Elias scored on his third whack at a loose puck.
Kovalchuk completed his hat trick 64 seconds after Elias' goal, and the game was out of reach.
John Tavares was held without a point and still doesn't have one against the Devils in four games this season. There were several shifts in which Tavares' line simply didn't have the puck, as the Elias-Dainius Zubrus-Petr Sykora line played keepaway.
"You look at the whole game, and it's not enough," P.A. Parenteau said. "We had some moments, Brodeur made some good saves, but we still have to make more happen."
The odd scheduling that has these two teams playing three times in six days wraps up Saturday night at the Coliseum, with the Islanders then facing the Rangers at the Garden on Sunday night.
With 15 games remaining, the Islanders are closer to 15th than eighth in the Eastern Conference.
If anything more needs to be said, then it's already too late.
"It seems like we just didn't have enough jump at the start," MacDonald said. "We have to come out stronger."