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Islanders again struggle defensively in loss to Panthers

Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) scores a

Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) scores a goal against New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers won 5-1.  Credit: AP/Lynne Sladky

SUNRISE, Fla. — There still are 11 more games on this season-opening road trip for the Islanders to tighten their defensive play.

It’s now an unacceptable 11 goals allowed in two losses after the Panthers won, 5-1, on Saturday night at FLA Live Arena. Ilya Sorokin has been ill-supported in net both times as the Islanders wait for Semyon Varlamov to fully recover from his unspecified soreness.

"It’s a little concerning," coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought we were really good in the first two periods. They didn’t have many scoring opportunities. But when we’ve been breaking down, we’ve really been breaking down."

Sorokin made 14 of his 24 saves in the third period as Sam Bennett’s hat trick powered the Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 29 shots for the Panthers. Oliver Wahlstrom’s unassisted power-play goal at 3:30 of the third period made it 3-1 and spoiled his shutout bid.

The Islanders lost their season opener, 6-3, at Carolina on Thursday.

The trip continues Tuesday in Chicago.

"You give up five goals a game, you’re not going to win in this league at all doing that," Trotz said. "We’ve got to just tighten up. We’re going to need some good goaltending. We’re going to need our special teams to be really good and we’ve got to be disciplined."

"I think the main thing is we just need to be quicker to close in the defensive zone, kill plays right away and get them stopped and not give them so much time and space to create," defenseman Adam Pelech said. "A big part of it is that we’re spending a lot of time in our zone. We’re really worn out down there and it takes a toll on you. Maybe you don’t have the energy to close quickly and kill the play right away."

Bennett completed his hat trick at 9:39 of the third period, ripping a shot from the high slot past Sorokin’s glove to make it 4-1. Aleksander Barkov went unhindered to the crease to make it 5-1 at 12:22.

Defenseman Zdeno Chara was on ice for that Panthers goal and three others.

"I definitely think it’s something we can clean up pretty quickly," defenseman Andy Greene said. "When we’re playing our best hockey, it’s when we’re five-man units all over the ice. Everything is connected from there. When we don’t, there’s a little bit of disconnect there and you see what happens."

The Panthers led 1-0 after an evenly played first period. Bennett outmuscled defenseman Noah Dobson for position at the crease and knocked in the rebound of defenseman Radko Gudas’ shot from the right circle at 9:10.

Bennett made it 2-0 at 3:48 of the second period, tucking in a wraparound at the right post as Sorokin came out too far and could not cleanly get across his crease quickly enough.

Sorokin, who entered the game with a paltry .875 save percentage, was not to blame for the Panthers’ third goal. Defenseman Mackenzie Weegar sprung Anthony Duclair past defenseman Ryan Pulock and to the crease for a 3-0 lead at 18:57 of the second period.

The Islanders lost out on a potential goal when Panthers coach Joel Quenneville successfully challenged that Anders Lee interfered with Bobrovsky on Pulock’s apparent goal at 8:06 of the second period.

That’s just the way things are going for the Islanders to start the season.

"It’s not great," Casey Cizikas said. "You don’t want to be in this position, but here we are. It’s not easy, but we’ve got a veteran group here. We know it’s not the way that we can play. As a group, we know we have to come out with our best game against Chicago."

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