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Islanders lose to Panthers, a bad restart to playoff race

Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak removes his mask after

Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak removes his mask after Panthers right wing Evgenii Dadonov scored a goal during the second periodat Barclays Center on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It is way too early to obsess over the standings, right? Yes and no.

On one hand the Islanders acknowledged as they ventured into the post-All-Star break dog days that it is OK to start taking a peek at what is going on elsewhere in the Metropolitan Division, because April no longer is that far off.

On the other hand, the division has “been just a mess,” as coach Doug Weight said before Tuesday night’s dreary 4-1 loss to the Panthers at Barclays Center, which did nothing to help the cause.

By that he meant it has been exceedingly close, with the Islanders having begun the game tied for sixth place with the Rangers and yet only two points out of second place and eight points out of first. And three points out of last.

So a coach, player or fan could drive himself or herself to distraction by obsessing over daily ups and downs in the coming weeks.

The idea simply is to look straight ahead as much as possible because, as Weight said, “It comes down to taking care of business yourself.”

The Islanders failed to do that against Florida, before a modest — and greatly displeased — announced crowd of 10,423. To make matters worse, they lost to Harri Sateri, a Finnish goaltender who earned his first NHL victory in four career starts.

It was a disappointment after a pre-break road trip that yielded five points in three games.

“We just got outworked; there’s no explanation,” Weight said. When someone wondered whether a 3-0 deficit had jump-started a better late effort, he said, “I mean, the deficit is we’re out of the playoffs right now, so that should be kicked in at 7 o’clock, not 8:30.”

Captain John Tavares said, “We just didn’t have our best today, for whatever reason.”

Was there perhaps a post-All-Star hangover? “They had the same layover we had, so there’s no excuse, really,” Tavares said. “This just wasn’t good enough.”

Cal Clutterbuck said the same thing: “It wasn’t good enough. We played hard on the road trip, had a different mentality.”

The Panthers scored first, at 8:54 of the first period, on a strange goal by Mike Matheson.

The reaction from players on both teams was muted, and a replay review was required to confirm the puck struck the net over Jaroslav Halak’s right shoulder in such a way that it bounced out so quickly it was unclear what had occurred.

The early deficit did not bode well for the Islanders, who now are 17-3 in games in which they scored first and 8-18-5 when allowing the first goal.

At 14:40 of the second, Evgenii Dadonov made it 2-0 on a wraparound goal after deking past Scott Mayfield and around the net behind Halak.

Florida made it 3-0 at 4:14 of the third when Keith Yandle beat Halak on a slap shot from the blue line. Less than a minute later, Adam Pelech put a shot from the slot past Sateri and it was 3-1. A late empty-netter made it 4-1.

Weight said his team could use more maturity and players who know what it takes to win at this time of year, and he hoped he would get Andrew Ladd back from an injury to help with that as early as Wednesday night in Toronto.

What else can he do to rectify things? “I’ll probably yell and scream and tell them to be ready tomorrow,” Weight said. “It should be (playing) with reckless abandon with thirty-some games left. No need to explain it.”

Every point counts, and the long countdown to spring has begun — and begun badly. Thirty-one games to go.

New York Sports