WASHINGTON — It certainly was as clear to everyone inside the Islanders’ room as it was to anyone who watched: The Isles should have come away with at least a point and probably two Thursday night.
The difference was Lars Eller’s goal off the rush with 3:21 to play in a 4-3 loss to the Capitals. But the real difference throughout a pretty dominant performance by the Islanders was goaltending.
Braden Holtby made 35 saves for the Capitals, who snapped a three-game losing skid. Jaroslav Halak made only 15 stops for the Islanders, who had a three-game winning streak snapped. And for each time the Islanders rallied from a goal down, there was a breakdown or a stoppable shot that kept them from overtaking a Washington team that got basically nothing from its Islander-killing star players.
“Should’ve had it,” Islanders coach Doug Weight said. “It’s game 13, it’d be nice to have. I felt like we earned it. We gave up two shots in the third.”
One of them was Eller’s goal. After winning a draw in their own end, the Capitals got the puck around the wall and Thomas Hickey stepped up to close off Tom Wilson. Wilson slid the puck to Eller, who came down two-on-one. Ryan Pulock laid out to take away the pass and a low shot, but Eller beat Halak from 25 feet over the goalie’s left shoulder. It was his second goal of the game.
“They just scored some weird goals. At least one of them, I’d like to have back,” said Halak, who likely was referring to Alex Chiasson’s long-range slapper from the left faceoff circle at 16:30 of the second, which came 12 seconds after Anders Lee tied it at 2-2. “Hopefully I can help the guys down the stretch and win some games.”
The Islanders’ 5-1-0 run entering Thursday had been led by the offense, which had produced 29 goals in those games. The once-moribund power play continued to roll, going 2-for-4 with goals from John Tavares (10th in the last six games) and Lee (two goals, one assist). That gave the Isles seven power-play goals in the last 14 opportunities.
Down a goal entering the third, the Islanders ramped up their game, even through a sleepy Capitals power play. Alex Ovechkin had perhaps his quietest game ever against the Isles with two shots on goal and no impact on the night. Ditto Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. But Eller, Wilson and Chandler Stephenson did enough damage.
Lee spun and snapped a shot past Holtby at 7:00 of the third to tie it and the Isles held a 10-0 shots-on-goal advantage to that point of the period.
“The only thing to be disappointed in is the result,” said Josh Bailey, who had two more assists to give him nine in the last four games. “Obviously, that’s the most important thing, but it was a good 60 minutes and there’s a lot to take away from that one.”
But not any points.
Halak was starting his third straight game after strong outings against Nashville and Vegas, but he’s still giving up an average of three goals per start.
“We had plenty of shots, plenty of opportunities to win the game,” Weight said. “We played a good team and I felt we deserved two points.”
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