The Islanders have gotten through some games with a bit of luck backed by good goaltending or a timely special-teams play. Their success perhaps has masked a few weaknesses that are starting to creep in, and their weaknesses bit them hard Thursday night at Barclays Center.
The Isles weren't strong enough on pucks and Hurricanes players to hang on to a one-goal lead deep into the third period, losing that edge on Chris Terry's goal past a helpless Thomas Greiss with 5:04 left.
Then they lost the extra point on Ron Hainsey's overtime winner at 2:21, taking a 3-2 loss that could serve as a blast of harsh reality on a pretty solid 6-2-2 start to the season.
"We deserved to lose this one," said Frans Nielsen, whose end-to-end rush and backhand past Eddie Lack on the power play broke a 1-1 tie at 12:50 of the second period. "Maybe it's a good thing. We need to realize we've got to step it up here. We've got to figure it out."
Staked to that 2-1 lead after two periods -- Matt Martin and Brock McGinn traded first-period goals -- and having allowed only 11 shots on Greiss through 40 minutes, the Islanders had a chance to put away a team that has struggled to win.
Instead, the Islanders put themselves away. Breakout passes struggled to find familiar stick blades. Offensive-zone time was paltry. Defensive-zone coverage started to break down, especially in front of Greiss, who was challenging shooters and diving back to recover rebounds with more frequency.
John Tavares was frustrated by the Hurricanes' tight checking and his line, out for a long shift, got caught watching as Eric Staal fed brother Jordan, who slid a pass past Josh Bailey and right to Terry, who buried it for the tying goal.
"Every team can skate and make plays," Tavares said. "You can see how aggressive teams are . . . We might just be a foot off, but that's the difference in some games."
Carolina held a 13-4 shot edge in the third and the Isles managed to get to OT, but things didn't improve. Nielsen fell down to allow a Carolina two-on-one, and Greiss snared Jordan Staal's shot less than a minute in. The Hurricanes wheeled and dealt at will for the next 90 seconds before Hainsey broke up Kyle Okposo's rush and beat Okposo down the ice to tap Jordan Staal's feed through Greiss' pads.
"There's definitely still a lot of room for improvement," said Greiss, who again was sharp and still hasn't been beaten in regulation (3-0-2) as an Islander. "It's still early. A lot of teams are working and making adjustments."
It somehow doesn't feel as if the Islanders are struggling with basic portions of their game. The penalty kill wiped out two more tries Thursday night, running the successful kill streak to 23. Nielsen's power-play goal was the Isles' fourth in as many games, and this OT loss left them 6-1-1 in the last eight.
But this team wants to reach new heights. It's never too early to police their own bad habits, even with what the standings say.
"We're beating ourselves," Nielsen said. "We've got to get back to basics. We're getting outshot every night, it seems. We've found ways to win, but not this one."
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