NASHVILLE, Tenn. - When Predators coach Barry Trotz said Saturday that the Islanders "are one of the best teams in the league," the comment certainly seemed sincere, and deserved, judging from performance. What the Islanders learned Saturday night, though, was that they have to earn everything, including compliments.
They lost the momentum they gathered after taking a lead in the second period, and ultimately lost the lead and the game, 3-2, to the low-key, low-scoring Predators at Bridgestone Arena.
Ryan Ellis' blast on a rush at 3:23 of the third period was the second transition goal in a row for the home team. It sent the Islanders to their second loss in two nights by the same score during a short, unsatisfying trip.
Allowing three goals to the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Friday was unsettling enough for the Islanders, but allowing as many to the Predators was disappointing to a team that had not lost in regulation before Friday.
"Not our style at all," Travis Hamonic said about the Islanders' play in their own zone.
John Tavares, who was switched with Frans Nielsen on their lines just to get things going after a slow first period, said: "We had some chances, we turned things there in the second. We couldn't really sustain that momentum. We've got to find a way to hold one of these, the second part of a game, really shut a team down. That was something we did really well the end of last year."
Shutting teams down is the Predators' strategy. "Especially as an offensive player, you feel like you don't have a lot of room," Tavares said.
The Predators had amassed only six goals in four games before Saturday night and their approach is "meat and potatoes," Trotz said Saturday morning, adding, "We don't have a John Tavares, a top-shelf guy." He went on to call the Islanders "one of the best teams I've seen." He cited their top two productive lines, saying the often overlooked Nielsen "is a heck of a player" and that the defense is mobile and physical.
Nielsen, in particular, proved him right, tying the score at 12:39 of the second after vaunted Predators rookie defenseman Seth Jones made it 1-0 at 1:03 with a power-play shot from the left circle. It was the first NHL goal for Jones, who turned 19 only 10 days ago. He is the son of former Nets assistant coach Popeye Jones.
Evgeni Nabokov also was solid for the Islanders, turning back two excellent scoring chances when the Islanders seemed sleepy in the first period (they probably actually were sleepy -- a late flight from Chicago and a noisy hotel).
But the momentum turned when a Predators breakout resulted in a transition goal by Patric Hornqvist that tied the score at 2 with 53 seconds left in the second. "I like the way we competed in the last two periods, but we've got to start better," Nielsen said. "We got outworked. It can't happen. Last season, we had like 35 out of 48 games that were tight and we came out on top in most of them."
Jack Capuano, who worked his 200th game as Islanders coach, something only Al Arbour had done previously, made an Arbour-like move in switching the top two centers. "For whatever reason, it seemed to work," Capuano said.
The coach saw the two 3-2 losses as just a rough weekend, not a troubling trend. Ellis' goal might even have deflected off an Islander's stick. "It had eyes," he said. "I thought we were playing pretty good hockey."