The Islanders finished the season Sunday with their sixth straight victory, this one a 4-2 win over a playoff-bound Senators squad that brought a group of mostly AHL-caliber players to Barclays Center. The Isles (41-29-12) wound up with 94 points, one shy of a playoff berth.
They learned their fate 90 minutes or so after leaving Prudential Center in Newark on Saturday night. The Maple Leafs had beaten the Penguins and extinguished the Islanders’ unlikely playoff hopes. With only their home crowd left to impress, the Isles went out the way they started under interim coach Doug Weight, playing a pretty strong game after the hot mess they left in the first half of the season.
“It’s an empty feeling, it’s disappointing,” said Andrew Ladd, who scored his 23rd goal of the season Sunday. “When you have the kind of start to the season we had, it’s an uphill battle the rest of the way. You can’t afford any lulls after that, and we had one a few weeks ago. It cost us.”
Other than a few personal milestones hit — Brock Nelson and Jason Chimera each scored his 20th of the season, Anders Lee scored his team-leading 34th and Josh Bailey ended up with a team-high 43 assists — the major topic of conversation in the postgame locker room was Weight.
The Islanders were 24-12-4 under their novice head coach, and anyone who was asked immediately responded that he wants Weight to return next season and beyond. “I think lots of guys would love to see him back,” Ladd said. “Our record since he took over shows what he was able to do.”
“His communication and his leadership were followed. The guys want to play for him,” said Lee, who was the Isles’ first 30-goal scorer not named John Tavares since Matt Moulson had 36 in 2011-12. “Dougie came in and real ly changed the mindset of the team. He’s got a bright future in coaching. If he wants to do it, he’ll be successful.”
Weight certainly talked like a coach who’s invested in the future of his team. “We’ll be better next season, I promise,” he said. “It’s paramount we move forward quickly — maybe not the next 48 hours — but whatever’s going to happen, we’ve got to do it soon. We have some things we need to improve. We’ve got to dig in and get to work. It starts 15 minutes from now.”
Weight, his coaching staff and the front office, led by general manager Garth Snow, will begin exit meetings Monday. When the playoffs begin for 16 teams Wednesday, the Islanders will be scattered, with many questions remaining.
Tavares missed the final five games with an injured left hamstring. He will need to see what the organization does — whether owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky hire someone to oversee or replace Snow, whether Weight is hired full-time and what roster moves are made — before he decides whether to sign an extension.
For now, though, Weight and his players can point to individual games and individual sequences that cost them a third straight playoff appearance. Most notable among them: the five games the Isles lost in regulation in their first 20 this season when tied with less than three minutes to play. Even a single point in two or three of those would have gotten them in.
“That’s the margin for error these days,” Bailey said. “There’s so much parity now, all it takes is that one point. You sometimes don’t think of it at the time necessarily, but those are the ones that get you in or keep you out.”
Notes & quotes: Thomas Greiss started in net for the first time since giving up five goals in the first period against the Flyers on March 30. Greiss (25-18-5) made 32 saves to earn his career-high 25th victory.