There were few breaks in Wednesday’s 50-minute practice, with the Islanders concentrating on battle drills, managing the puck properly and working effectively in tight spaces.
It was an attention-grabber after two sub-par performances, just as the start of a home-and-home series against the rival Rangers should be on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. The teams conclude their regular-season series Saturday afternoon at Barclays Center.
“We battled pretty hard out there today,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said after the practice in East Meadow. “I think it’s good to realize that even though we had a nice winning streak, we’ve got to be prepared every night. We need everyone, every single game. We can’t have lines or defensemen taking nights off, because it affects our chances.”
The Islanders (23-14-4) had their season-high six-game winning streak snapped in Tuesday night’s 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. It was a marginally better performance than Saturday night’s 4-3 victory at St. Louis.
They have split their first two games against the Rangers this season, rallying from a two-goal deficit for a 7-5 win in Brooklyn on Nov. 15 as Anthony Beauvillier notched his first career hat trick. But the Rangers snapped the Islanders’ eight-game winning streak in the recently one-sided New York rivalry with a 5-0 victory on Nov. 21 at the Garden, the only time they’ve been shut out this season.
The Islanders still are 12-2-0 against the Rangers since Dec. 2, 2015, but the team is more concerned with its recent play, knowing it needs to correct the mental errors of the past two games.
“You can tell the way the [practice drills] were designed it was to get the puck deep and make smart decisions,” captain Anders Lee said. “It’s just reinforcing the things we need to work on and the areas we’ve gotten away from a little bit.”
All four of the Hurricanes’ goals were marked by either poor defensive efforts or bad puck management decisions. The worst came on Greg McKegg’s deflating goal with six seconds left in the first period to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead after Mathew Barzal turned the puck over in the Islanders’ zone rather than getting it out and letting the clock run out.
“We had a little meeting on our decision-making process and we just worked on a few things I think we need to get a little bit better at,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said.
While the Islanders are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Rangers’ 4-2 loss at Las Vegas on Tuesday night was their fourth straight defeat. They’ve fallen to sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, nine points behind the Islanders.
“It’s going to be an intense game,” Lee said. “No matter where each team is in the standings or whatever part of the year it is, it’s always an exciting game. The fans are into it. There’s that rivalry factor. You have no choice but to be dialed in.”