DENVER — This was never going to be one for the time capsule.
The Islanders entered Friday night’s game fresh off a five-day break and went straight into playing in the Colorado altitude, which can be a struggle for any team.
Given those circumstances, they weren’t displeased with how they played, just how the game ended. They fell to the struggling Avalanche, 2-1, on Nathan MacKinnon’s power-play goal with 16.1 seconds left in overtime and headed for Arizona with only one point against one of the league’s worst teams.
“I thought we played a pretty good game coming off the break,” John Tavares said. “We had some chances and it was an unfortunate call in OT. Those are tough to kill.”
Calvin de Haan was whistled for a very mild hook on Gabriel Landeskog during an end-to-end three-on-three overtime, one that featured odd-man rushes both ways and good stops from Thomas Greiss and Colorado’s Calvin Pickard.
Greiss stopped Jarome Iginla’s initial blast, but MacKinnon was free to sweep in the rebound and give the Avalanche (13-25-1) its first home win in 10 games.
“There were some good things, considering we were off,” said Johnny Boychuk, whose five-on-three blast in the second period accounted for the Islanders’ only goal. “But we lost. Wins are what count, especially for us right now.”
The Islanders definitely needed some time to get their mountain legs, and Landeskog’s goal 6:06 into the game didn’t help the visitors find their level.
De Haan hooked Matt Nieto on a breakaway at 14:16 of the first period, drawing a penalty shot for Nieto, who was playing his first game for Colorado since being claimed off waivers from the Sharks. Greiss was aggressive to deny Nieto with the glove, the fourth penalty shot in four attempts that he has stopped in his Islanders tenure.
“That was a big save for us,” Jack Capuano said. “It gave us a little momentum and a surge that we needed.”
The Islanders did ramp up their play in the second and third periods, controlling the puck for long stretches. Greiss was sharp when needed, including a full-stretch stop on Mikko Rantanen for one of his 37 saves.
Pickard was equal to the task, denying Josh Bailey from in tight late in the third for one of his 35 stops.
The Islanders came close in the waning seconds, but Thomas Hickey sent a try from the slot over the Avalanche net as time expired.
“I liked that we kept on the attack all through the third,” Capuano said. “Maybe earlier in the year, we were sitting back in that spot. We were aggressive.”
The Islanders still have played fewer games than almost all of the teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference, so they have room to move up. But as they near the halfway mark of the season, there have to be better results on nights like this one, when the legs feel heavy and the opponent is a hot mess like the Avalanche.
“We needed two points, but we have to take some of the good things we did into [Saturday night], with the quick turnaround,” Boychuk said. “It’s tough to feel good about that one, but we have no choice now.”