NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Clunkers happen over the course of an 82-game schedule — particularly true for the Islanders this season when they face the Predators — as do injuries.
The trick is bouncing back.
So it’ll be interesting to see how the Islanders respond on Saturday night at Vegas after opening their four-game western road trip with a turnover-prone, defensively-deficient 5-0 loss to the Predators on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.
It matched their 8-3 loss to the Predators at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 17 as their biggest margin of defeat this season. The Predators have scored 12 straight goals against the Islanders.
“Just unforced turnovers, forced,” said coach Barry Trotz, whose displeasure showed throughout the game on the bench and in his postgame comments. “We had some players that just were not good today, plain and simple. I was disappointed in the back end. Some of our guys that we rely on, some veteran guys. A few forwards as well. It wasn’t a good team effort at all.”
The Islanders (33-17-6) were blanked for the third time this season but remain in third place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Blue Jackets and Flyers. Goalie Thomas Greiss was chased after allowing three goals on eight shots in the first 13:33.
“It was on us. It was our turnovers, our lack of execution,” Trotz said. “It was unacceptable the number of turnovers that we had. And really not making firm plays. Guys are just throwing, they say, New York garbage on their partner.”
Craig Smith had his first career hat trick for the Predators (27-22-7). Juuse Saros made 31 saves for his second shutout of the season.
“We were a little too stationary with the puck,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “They were tracking back, taking them away and filling our net.”
“You have to be real with yourself and everybody in the room and realize it’s not good enough for this time of the year,” Brock Nelson said. “We just have to be better, plain and simple.”
The Islanders are missing fourth-line center Casey Cizikas, who suffered a left-leg laceration in Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Flyers at the Coliseum. Cole Bardreau, a 26-year-old rookie in his second NHL stint, took his spot between Matt Martin and Leo Komarov.
But the Islanders seemed to miss Adam Pelech the most. The top-pair, steady defenseman has been out since suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon injury on Jan. 2.
Greiss’ night started poorly and neither he nor the Islanders ever recovered after Smith stripped defenseman Nick Leddy of the puck deep in the Islanders’ zone and banked in a sharp-angle shot inside the near post from the right to make it 1-0 just 35 seconds into the game.
Another turnover led to Smith’s second goal at 7:41. Greiss was pulled after defenseman Mattias Ekholm beat him cleanly to the short side on an unscreened shot from the left to make it 3-0 at 13:33.
Greiss also was pulled from the Predators’ win at the Coliseum after allowing five goals on 15 shots through two periods.
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk’s turnover at the Islanders’ blue line allowed Rocco Grimaldi to score an unassisted goal to make it 4-0 at 4:41 of the second period.
“A nothing play ends up in the back of our net because we don’t execute and someone is trying to outthink the game,” Trotz said.
Smith, open in the slot, completed his hat trick at 11:39 of the second after Noah Dobson turned the puck over deep in the zone.