The Islanders, recovering from their COVID-19 outbreak, took a baby step back in their upward climb to re-enter the playoff race on Thursday night.
They didn’t lose in regulation, which they had done in the eight previous games, meaning they earned a point for the first time since Nov. 6. But Erik Karlsson, leading a two-on-one rush, scored the winner 39 seconds into overtime as the Sharks beat the Islanders, 2-1, before a sellout crowd of 17,255 at UBS Arena.
"We can manage the game a little bit better and tighten it up," coach Barry Trotz said. "These guys have to catch up to the moving train and I think they will be able to do that hopefully very shortly here."
The last-place Islanders (5-10-3) had scheduled games against the Rangers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden and the Flyers on Tuesday in Philadelphia postponed because of their COVID-19 situation.
In their return, they still defended too much and failed to get a much-needed two points. It partially wasted another fine performance by goalie Ilya Sorokin (33 saves), particularly on a 3-for-3 penalty kill.
"Soroko was unbelievable back there," defenseman Andy Greene said. "He played really well and gave us a chance all night. We came out with a good start. We battled hard tonight. Now we need to get over that hump and continue to do the right things shift in, shift out. When we managed the puck, we played well tonight. When we didn’t, we were chasing it."
The lineup, a makeshift hybrid NHL/AHL roster the previous five games, welcomed back Greene along with Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and defenseman Adam Pelech after they were cleared from COVID protocol.
Defenseman Ryan Pulock and Brock Nelson remain sidelined with lower-body injuries and Casey Cizikas and defenseman Zdeno Chara remain in COVID-19 protocol.
"We definitely could have been better tonight," Pelech said. "We could have managed the puck a little better. But I think it’s a step in the right direction."
The Islanders are 18 points behind the Hurricanes for the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and 12 points out of the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot.
"I thought we came out strong," said Mathew Barzal, who gave the Islanders their first-ever lead at their new home and their first lead overall since Nov. 15 with a laser-like wrist shot from the right circle past a rarely tested Adin Hill (24 saves) at 1:04 of the first period.
"A pretty good game by us," added Barzal, who notched his first point in six games. "I expected us to come out strong and be excited after we got some of our guys back."
Barzal was denied a second goal after taking a loose puck in the Sharks’ zone and getting in alone on Hill at 7:57 of the third period.
Nick Bonino redirected Jonathan Dahlen’s feed to the left post to tie it at 1 at 9:10 of the first period. The goal came one second after an Islanders bench minor for too many men had expired and within 30 seconds of multiple failed attempts to clear the zone.
Lee, who had served the penalty, nearly regained the lead for the Islanders at 19:12 of the first period, pulling the puck past defenseman Brent Burns and to his backhand before lifting a shot off the crossbar.
Said Barzal, "It’s been frustrating this last little while not really being able to take that next step and get over the hump and put us in a position where we are leading and we can lock it down."