The Islanders aren’t just hoping that their third-period meltdown in Columbus on Saturday is a passing issue. They have to count on it with another huge slate of games this week and next before the three-day NHL holiday break from Dec. 24-26.
Jack Capuano decried “dumb decisions with the puck” on Saturday, when a tie game after two periods quickly turned into a 6-2 rout. With the Caps and Blackhawks coming to Barclays Center on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, there’s no time to dwell on a poor period that snapped the Isles’ six-game point streak.
“You can’t focus on the negative,” Capuano said after the Isles practiced Monday at Northwell Health Ice Center. “We fell asleep for five to eight minutes and it cost us the game. There’s four in six coming up, we’re on to the next one, continuously work and hopefully win some games.”
Capuano did point to his defense corps slipping the past few games and it was Nick Leddy’s egregious turnover that led to Columbus’ go-ahead goal to start the onslaught.
Leddy and Travis Hamonic have remained as the top defense pair despite some ugly numbers. Hamonic is a league-worst minus-17 on the season and Leddy is a minus-14. Plus-minus has been discredited in recent seasons as a key statistic, given the luck involved — Hamonic got a minus on Josh Anderson’s goal off Leddy’s turnover, but was there anything Hamonic could have done?
For for the advanced stat followers, things are equally unpleasant for the Leddy-Hamonic duo. Both are around 43 percent in even-strength Corsi For, or the percentage of shots the Isles generate while those two are on the ice. That 43 percent is among the bottom 25 players in the league.
“Do I know it’s there? Sure,” Hamonic said of the plus-minus number. “Sometimes things are your fault, but I can’t change it. Fresh slate, play better. It’s a tough question to answer. I can’t go online and remove it. You’re stupid if you don’t see it, but like any stat, there’s a lot that goes into it.”
Overall, the Islanders have managed to pull themselves out of last in the league despite not generating the majority of shots at even strength, relying on better goaltending and more timely scoring. That shows there’s still more to improve upon if the Isles want to make up the 10-point gap between themselves and the Caps, who hold the second wild-card slot.
And it starts with the defense.
“You have to go back for pucks hard,” Capuano said. “That’s how it starts. It’s not lazy by any means, maybe casual is a better word. We just have to have a little more urgency and assertiveness to our game on the back end.”
Notes & quotes: Johnny Boychuk, who left Saturday’s game late after blocking a shot with his right hand, practiced and said he felt fine. Judging by Capuano’s practice lines, Anthony Beauvillier will go back in and Alan Quine will be scratched on Tuesday. Jaroslav Halak appeared in line to make the start in goal.