There is no margin for error for the Islanders anymore, not sitting last in the East. There shouldn’t be any wondering about desperation, will to compete or any other coach-speak phrases.
Yet the exasperated looks were back on players’ faces after a third straight 2-1 loss, this one to an undermanned Panthers team Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
Sure, the Islanders outshot Florida 12-1 in the third, but that was after a no-show second period in which the Panthers took the lead early and the Islanders took some time off.
“We had some guys who should’ve stayed in the room,” Jack Capuano said of the second, in which the Isles were outshot 16-6 and fell behind on Jason Demers’ goal 1:09 in. “There were total non-factors.”
There aren’t many changes Capuano can make with only Anthony Beauvillier and Stephen Gionta available as extra forwards. Jason Chimera didn’t have a shot attempt and took a goaltender interference penalty in the first; Shane Prince, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome had their struggles as well.
Capuano shuffled his lines briefly eight minutes into the game, shortly after Keith Yandle put the Panthers ahead and the Isles coach sensed his team needed a jolt. Nick Leddy evened the score at 10:47 of the first and the Islanders picked their game up until the horn.
But back out for the second they were moribund. Demers scored on a shot that banked in off Dennis Seidenberg past Thomas Greiss after Jussi Jokinen cleanly beat John Tavares on a faceoff.
The Panthers were missing regular forwards Nick Bjugstad, Aleksandr Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, and Jaromir Jagr was invisible. So the Islanders were outworked and beaten by the likes of Paul Thompson, Michael Sgarbossa and Jared McCann, all of whom have spent time in the AHL this season.
That makes three games now against teams outside the playoff picture since the Isles’ five-day break and they scored a single goal in each of them.
“I think if we had all the answers I don’t think we’d be with three goals in three games,” Tavares said. “We’ve had some chances, especially in the first two games. I think tonight was just one of those games. It felt like ping pong just chipping it back and forth.”
As the Panthers tightened up defensively in the third, the Islanders did start to generate a bit, but Roberto Luongo was solid in making 29 saves and the Islanders weren’t getting many second and third bites at the apple.
“You’ve got to come out of that room and be a difference-maker,” Capuano said of his no-show forwards. “The last 2-3 weeks I thought we played pretty hard, pretty well . . . I don’t know where we are in goals in the Metro (Division), but I’m sure it’s not last. We have to find a way.”
So now the Islanders head out on the road again, with stops in Florida, Raleigh and Boston. They’re all must-wins. But even the players are not sure which team will show up.
“I honestly don’t know what to expect,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “Whatever timing we had before the break has been stunted a little. We worked to find a way out of this before so we’ll have to do that again.”
But even Clutterbuck knows that time is frittering away.
“It’s gotten to a point where we’re not going to have any chances left if we keep doing this,” he said. “That’s reality. We’ve only got so many chances.”