SUNRISE, Fla. – The Islanders are still searching.
Lately, that’s been for wins. Or for any sort of scoring threats while skating five-on-five. But also for the right personnel combinations as coach Lane Lambert has yet to settle on a set lineup.
The Islanders’ losing streak grew to three with a 3-2 loss to the Panthers at FLA Live Arena on Sunday as they were swept on their first road trip.
“There’s no concern the right pieces are here,” said Lambert, who has lost four of his first six games as the Islanders’ bench boss. “It’s just a matter of generating chemistry and, if things are not going the way we want to, do something in terms of moving our guys around. They understand that.”
So, does that mean Lambert is close to finding the right combinations with upcoming games this week against the Rangers, Hurricanes and Stanley Cup-champion Avalanche? On Sunday, he had Josh Bailey and Ross Johnston in the lineup while taking out Anthony Beauvillier and Nikita Soshnikov. He also altered both power play units, having Mathew Barzal skate with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Bailey, Zach Parise and defenseman Noah Dobson while Brock Nelson went with Anders Lee, Kyle Palmieri, Oliver Wahlstrom and defenseman Sebastian Aho.
“I think we’re close,” Lambert said. “But, at the same time, we’ve got to lock it down here soon.”
Sunday marked the fourth straight game top-six centers Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson had a different iteration of linemates. Neither has a goal this season.
Lee scored twice on the power play and Semyon Varlamov made 29 saves. But the Islanders were outchanced, 60-43, as Spencer Knight stopped 23 shots.
“We just found ourselves behind in the third period again,” Lee said. “Coming back from one or two, it’s tough. We made it a game. We put a lot of pressure on them. We did a lot of good things. Our game is going in the right direction. We’re not getting the results right now so we’ve got to find a way to stick with it and push through this.”
The Islanders pulled within 2-1 on Lee’s power-play goal at 4:27 of the second period as he got his stick on Barzal’s shot from the left circle. The Islanders were on a four-minute power play after defenseman Matt Kiersted’s stick bloodied Matt Martin’s face.
But defenseman Sebastian Aho’s defensive-zone turnover led to Ryan Lomberg swatting the puck past Varlamov from the left circle to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead at 2:56 of the third period. Lee’s backhander at the crease off Barzal’s initial shot on a five-on-three power play closed it to 3-2 at 9:07.
“I thought guys battled tonight, it just didn’t go our way,” Bailey said. “We gave a push at the end trying to find one. Just fell a little short. It was a pretty tight checking game.”
The Islanders leaned on their belief that Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Lightning was the result of untimely mistakes and they were playing with the pace and effort that would lead to success.
But the Panthers took a quick, 1-0, lead just 39 seconds into the first period after Anton Lundell stripped defenseman Adam Pelech of the puck in the right corner. Lundell then skated unchecked to the right post and beat Varlamov to the open far side, with the puck deflecting in off the goalie’s blocker. Eetu Luostarinen made it 2-0 at 9:13 of the first period on a shot from the slot that deflected off Aho’s stick.
Per Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders were held to one high-danger chance skating five-on-five while the Panthers had eight.