The Islanders are going to have some cleaning up to do after the NHL’s three-day holiday break, which began on Tuesday.
They went into their mini-vacation with a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jackets on Monday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. It was the Islanders’ third straight home loss, and all three have been marked by uncharacteristic defensive or puck management mistakes that led to opposing goals. They resume their season Friday night against the Blackhawks to open a three-game road trip.
“I think if you look over it as a whole, the first half, you’ve got to like where we’re at,” point-leader Mathew Barzal said. “We’ve had some good stretches of hockey. We’ve beaten some good teams lately but we’ve kind of given some points away that we should have gotten. At the end of the day, we’re in a pretty good spot right now and we’ve just got to get our minds right after Christmas to really push for a playoff spot.”
The Islanders (23-9-3) sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division, eight points behind the streaking Capitals. But the third-place Flyers have won four straight to pull within two points, and the Penguins and Hurricanes also are within three points.
“We go over every mistake,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s not that they don’t know. We’re making some mistakes and they’re ending up in the back of the net. They’re unforced. That’s the thing that’s hard. We talk about being predictable and everybody being on the same page. It seems like the last few games, one guy is smarter than the rest and it gets us in trouble.”
Still, the Islanders are on pace for 115 points, which would be 12 more than last season when they finished second and reached the second round of the playoffs in their first season under Trotz and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello. They’re on pace for the franchise’s most points since the 118 in 1981-82, when the Islanders won the third of four straight Stanley Cups and had the third-most points in team history.
A good portion of that cushion was built during a 15-0-2 run from Oct. 12-Nov. 23, which set the franchise record for points in consecutive games and left the Islanders at 16-3-2.
Barzal is having another All-Star caliber season with 16 goals and 16 assists, and his top line with captain Anders Lee (11 goals, 11 assists) and Jordan Eberle (three, 14) has been very productive of late. Second-line center Brock Nelson (13, 15) and left wing Anthony Beauvillier (10, 12) also have been consistent. But Trotz has struggled to find a permanent right wing on Nelson’s line, often flip-flopping Josh Bailey (eight, 14) and Derick Brassard (eight, 12), who was supposed to center the third line.
Overall, the lack of bottom-six production has been an issue.
“You’ve got to look at the big picture,” Trotz said. “We had a pretty good first half. That doesn’t mean anything if you don’t start winning games.”