The Islanders positioned themselves to have a successful five-game road trip. Instead, they just couldn’t capitalize.
“Good hockey games,” Mathew Barzal said. “Unfortunate we didn’t get a few more wins. A tough stretch of hockey games. There was some good stuff.”
The 1-2-2 road trip ended with a 5-3 loss to the Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, a game in which the Islanders led by one goal three times.
Mistakes certainly hurt the Islanders, who were leapfrogged by the victorious Capitals for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Too many penalties,” coach Lane Lambert said after the Rangers went 1-for-6 on the power play and Kaapo Kakko scored the winner at 17:13, seconds after defenseman Scott Mayfield’s cross-checking penalty on Jimmy Vesey at 15:07 of the third period expired.
“We’ve got to stay out of the box against a team like that that has a good power play. So we put ourselves in a hole that way.”
The Islanders (18-14-2) generated only 18 shots on Igor Shesterkin. They were outshot 12-5 and outscored 3-0 in the third period.
“They’re a good hockey team and they were coming,” Matt Martin said. “We’ve got to find a way to get more shots on net, don’t get me wrong. We’ve got to find ways to get the puck through and when we get the puck in, get pucks back and funnel into the net somehow. But also, overall, I didn’t mind our game.”
Anders Lee did score his first goal in three games to make it 1-0 at 12:48 of the first period. Barzal scored his fifth goal to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead at 2:39 of the second period as he lifted a backhander on a breakaway started by Josh Bailey tipping the puck away from Kakko.
Alexander Romanov scored his first goal as an Islander — becoming the team’s last defenseman to net one — on a blast from the left point through Hudson Fasching’s screen to put his team ahead 3-2 at 8:45 of the second period.
Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin made 29 saves, but his personal losing streak grew to seven games. He had stopped 46 shots for his third shutout in Monday’s 1-0 shootout loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche.
“This one hurts,” Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “I thought we were right there the whole game. Sorokie played unreal again. He gave us a chance to come back and take the lead.”
Defensively, Robin Salo got turned around at the Islanders’ blue line and let Julien Gauthier skate by to tie the score at 2-2 at 5:30 of the second period. Salo also couldn’t budge Barclay Goodrow at the crease as he tipped Gauthier’s shot from the left point to tie it at 3-3 at 3:00 of the third period.
Lambert benched Salo after that.
“The first one I probably was just caught a little off guard,” Salo said. “It was a good chip and just perfectly timed. I just didn’t anticipate that much speed. The second one, I don’t know where it hit him. I thought I had pretty good position in front.”
This trip, the Islanders’ longest of the season, started with a well-played 4-3 shootout loss to the NHL-best Bruins. But a clunker of a 5-4 loss to the rebuilding Coyotes, seventh in the Central Division, really hurt.
The Islanders followed that stinker with two more well-played games, a 5-2 win over Pacific Division-leading Vegas and the shootout loss to the Avalanche.