Whether you want to blame the Islanders goaltending or team defense, there’s lots of blame to go around for another night of allowing too many good chances and too many goals.
The Islanders were able to rally from two goals down to take a lead late into the third, but the Ducks’ Rickard Rakell tied it with 1:15 to play and Hampus Lindholm completed a rare defenseman’s hat trick with 56.8 seconds to play in overtime, leading to a 5-4 loss Thursday night at Barclays Center.
The defeat dropped the Islanders to 3-6-2 in their last 11 and left them a single point clear of the Penguins for the last playoff spot in the East. It was another night of fishing too many pucks out of their own net and plenty of frustration to go around.
“Everyone wants to point the finger at the goalies, but we’ve got to be better in front of them,” said Josh Bailey, who had three assists to take over the NHL lead with 35. “We’ve put ourselves in that spot (down 2-0 early) a few times and we’d like to flip the script and start playing with some leads.”
Instead, the Isles spotted their opponent the first two goals for the sixth time in the last 11 games. Lindholm deflected Andrew Cogliano’s shot past Jaroslav Halak from in tight at 8:09 of the first and then a skipping puck landed through a maze of skates and onto Ondrej Kase’s stick, also unbodied in close, at 9:54.
“I just thought we were a little timid in the first, trying not to make a mistake,” Doug Weight said after his team allowed their 40th and 41st goals in first periods this season, most in the league.
But the Islanders have plenty of firepower and put it to use in the second. Bailey threaded a nifty pass to Mathew Barzal for a five-on-three goal at 5:39. After Lindholm wired a slapper past Halak off a faceoff with no one around him at 12:36, John Tavares scored the first of his two off another great Bailey pass to send the Isles into the third down a goal.
And it was that top line yet again. Bailey fired a no-look feed for Tavares, who spun and beat Ryan Miller at 5:44 to tie the game. At 7:52, Andrew Ladd raced onto a loose puck in the slot and went high over Miller’s shoulder for the first lead of the game.
But as happened on Saturday against the Kings, when the Isles pulled an identical feat of recovery from down two goals, the Ducks tied it with Miller pulled for an extra attacker. Halak turned aside Brandon Montour’s point shot but Rakell was all alone to sweep the rebound home on Anaheim’s 39th shot of the game.
Halak was frustrated early and feisty, getting a roughing minor in the second for throwing a gloved punch at Nick Ritchie for shoveling him into the net following a whistle. The embattled Isles goaltending tandem has now allowed a league-high 124 goals and Halak, though he had some strong moments, was guilty on Lindholm’s winner from distance in OT.
“The big picture, or small picture, is we give up five goals and we lose,” Weight said. “But (Halak) was fighting for space and he had some emotion today. You take the positives in any way you can right now.”
With a Saturday matinee visit from the high-flying Jets before the three-day holiday break, the Islanders need better starts, stronger finishes and fewer breakdowns. A lot to ask in such a short time, but they have yet to show for any stretch this season that they can defend and keep the puck out of their net consistently.
“It’s great when you’re scoring goals,” Jordan Eberle said, “but we have to keep from giving up so many too. And it’s not on the goaltenders, it’s on us — you just look at the first one, a back-door play that we’ve given up a couple times now. We need to be better.”