OTTAWA, Ontario — How will the Islanders fare against the tougher opponents in the season’s final four weeks?
It’s a lingering question they will have to answer the correct way as they vie for a playoff berth. Despite sweeping a home-and-home series against the NHL-worst Senators with a 4-2 win at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday night, they again played an inconsistent game.
“I think we can definitely play better,” said Valtteri Filppula, who scored two goals and had opportunities to get a third but still seeks his first NHL hat trick after 941 games. “They had a lot of time in our zone and they made plays. They’re tough to play against. But the important thing is we got the points.”
The Islanders (39-21-7) pulled even with the Capitals atop the Metropolitan Division but are only six points ahead of the Canadiens for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot and eight points ahead of the Blue Jackets, who are on the outside looking in.
Only three of the Islanders’ final 15 games are against opponents out of the playoff chase. They will face the Flyers on Saturday night to open a three-game homestand.
“They never gave up, but a little bit is on us, too,” said Anthony Beauvillier, who scored the winner at 12:29 of the third period, whacking in the puck at the right post. “Just the way we’ve been playing is maybe not as good as we’re supposed to play. It wasn’t pretty, but four points is four points.”
Casey Cizikas added an empty-netter with 48.8 seconds to go and Thomas Greiss made 35 saves for the Islanders.
Goalie Robin Lehner was unavailable after suffering a suspected head injury late in the third period in Tuesday night’s 5-4 shootout win over the Senators at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders, who concluded a 2-3-0 homestand, could not hold a two-goal lead in the third period of that game.
All’s well that ended well for the Islanders against the Senators, but that won’t always be the case as the games continue to intensify unless they tighten their defensive play along the walls and limit the chances in front of their crease.
“I think we saw some improvements,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “Just with some of our structure, we were a little sharper in that area. There were just moments in the game where we let our foot off the gas a little bit, and that hurts you.”
“We’re still scuffling a little bit,” coach Barry Trotz added. “The good thing is I thought we played more than one period. Our first and third periods were fine. In the second period, we forgot to do the necessary things.”
Anders Nilsson stopped 27 shots for the Senators (23-39-6), who lost all three games to the Islanders and are in a 2-10-1 slide. Since the offseason, they have traded away Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson and top-six forwards Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel and replaced Guy Boucher with interim coach Marc Crawford.
Filppula, who also had a two-goal game in a 7-2 win at Los Angeles on Oct. 18, made it 1-0 with a backhander from between the circles at 5:44 of the first period and deposited Tom Kuhnhackl’s feed from behind the net to make it 2-1 at 15:24 of the period.
The Senators’ Brady Tkachuk, who earlier in the period checked Brock Nelson into the corner glass so hard that the pane popped free, deflected defenseman Ben Harpur’s shot from the right boards to make it 1-1 at 7:00. Oscar Lindberg tied it at 2-2 at 9:13 of the second.
Nilsson made a pad save on Filppula’s two-on-one shorthanded try at 6:05 of the second period. Filppula also missed a chance at an empty net late in the third period.