It’s essentially the same group of players. But the chemistry seems different and the results certainly haven’t been the same for the Islanders as they were in the playoff bubbles.
"Yeah, maybe, a little bit," defenseman Scott Mayfield said. "It feels different than it did in the bubble. When you’re not winning, it’s a different feeling."
The Islanders concluded a five-game road trip against the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday night. Their losing streak grew to four games the previous night in Philadelphia, though the 3-2 overtime defeat marked the first point gathered on the trip.
It’s a trend that cannot continue if the Islanders are going to reach the playoffs for a third straight season under coach Barry Trotz.
Playing in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, they reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1993 before bowing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning in six games.
"You can’t feel bad for yourself," Mayfield said. "That’s the biggest thing. We’ve talked about it. We’ve had meetings. The biggest thing is you pull yourself out of the hole. You go out there and have fun. I think, some of the losses, our effort wasn’t there. Other times, it’s just mental mistakes. Every situation is different. In the bubble, we had a lot of fun. We’ve just got to get back to playing that way."
Mayfield scored his first goal of the season — and only the second for an Islanders defenseman — to tie Saturday’s game at 2-2 at 11:46 of the second period after the Flyers opened a two-goal lead in the first period.
Adam Pelech and Nick Leddy also had primary assists on Saturday as defensemen accounted for three of the Islanders’ six points.
That backline production largely had been missing in the first three games of the road trip, with only Noah Dobson notching a goal and a secondary assist.
"When they’re moving around, it makes it tough," right wing Jordan Eberle said. "Both goals were scored [Saturday] coming around the net and then Scotty getting involved. When they’re moving back there, it’s tougher for teams to defend."
"Our D were extremely involved those last two periods, putting pucks in, just being big," Mathew Barzal said. "We’ve got big D-men with long reaches. When they make it tough on their forwards to enter the zone and breaking pucks out, like Dobber has been doing really well and [Leddy] did really well, it makes it easier on us forwards. Then we’re working as a five-man unit."
Leddy and Dobson each entered Sunday’s game with four assists apiece, trailing Barzal’s five assists for the team lead. But the Islanders’ four other defensemen had totaled one goal and three assists.
Seven Islanders defensemen totaled 11 goals and 30 assists in their 22 postseason games. Gone from that group is Devon Toews, traded to the Avalanche because of salary-cap concerns, and Johnny Boychuk, unable to continue his career because of an eye injury.
Trotz confirmed the overall benefits of Saturday’s collaborative effort, saying the forwards’ work after a "soft" first period allowed the defensemen to get more involved.
"When your forwards are being aggressive, doing the right things, being on top of people, your gaps with your D are essentially in a good spot," Trotz said. "I thought the work of our forwards allowed our D to become active. When they are backing off and not staying in the fight, our D have no chance to be active because they’re backed out of the zone. There’s not enough heat on the opposition."
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