Thursday’s win felt good, but seven games into the season, the Islanders still aren’t the team they hoped they would be. In fact, their last two victories — Thursday’s 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden and a 3-1 win in San Jose last Saturday — have featured some of the team’s sloppiest play this season.
Coach Doug Weight started Thursday’s game with 11 forwards and seven defensemen and essentially cut down to 10 forwards and six defensemen for the third period, when the Rangers surged and took away any semblance of an Islanders forecheck. Josh Ho-Sang, who passed up a couple of good scoring opportunities in the first two periods, got only one early third-period shift. Ryan Pulock, dressed as the seventh defenseman to give the power play a boost, got only two shifts in the third.
Similar to the win over the Sharks, who will visit Barclays Center on Saturday, the Islanders had trouble handling wave after wave of Rangers in the first 15 minutes of the third period on Thursday. Despite some good possession numbers through the first six games, the Isles not only couldn’t build on a 3-1 lead entering the third but seemed unable to exit their zone without a calamity.
“That starts with me. I really got them going,” said center Anders Lee, whose turnover inside the blue line led to Mats Zuccarello’s goal to start the Rangers’ comeback. “You have to be able to make smart decisions and put the pressure on when you’re ahead, and we definitely didn’t do that. Myself most of all.”
Weight didn’t reveal any lineup changes for Saturday’s game other than to go with Thomas Greiss in goal. Greiss was the star of the win in San Jose with 40 saves against his former team. Jaroslav Halak let in a bad tying goal on Thursday but was superb in overtime and the shootout, finishing with 38 stops.
Weight must decide what to do with hard-working forward Anthony Beauvillier, 20, who has been scratched the last three games. If he’s out again Saturday, the Isles will have to consider sending him to Bridgeport to play; Beauvillier does not need waivers to go to the AHL.
Ho-Sang, a healthy scratch on opening night in Columbus, might be the one to return to street clothes. “We talk about rolling lines over. The shifts were a little too long and, full disclosure, I didn’t like that he came out to the point, did a couple circles and it doesn’t look like it’s his guy [getting a scoring chance], but it is,” Weight said of Ho-Sang. “There’s habits you’ve got to break. It’s not about him not caring. He just loves to play and he got himself carried away a little bit.”