The Islanders need to start backing their words with solid play. Otherwise, they will continue to slip toward missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
Too often lately, there’s just been talk about what’s gone wrong and how simple fixes to their execution will change things. Or how low-scoring losses or marginally better efforts in defeat stood as progress.
The Islanders (22-18-3), still clinging to ninth in the Eastern Conference despite a 1-4-1 record in 2023, will face the hapless Canadiens on Saturday night at UBS Arena. Their five-game homestand started with a well-played 2-1 shootout loss to the Stars on Tuesday night but took a downturn in Thursday night’s turnover-prone 3-1 loss to the Wild. They allowed all three goals in the third period to wreck another outstanding performance by goalie Ilya Sorokin.
“We’re going to deal with it tonight and we’re going to get ready for the next one,” Josh Bailey said after the latest loss. “You’re going to face adversity throughout the course of the season. It hasn’t [gone] the way we wanted to the last little bit. We’ve got some character in this room. You have to sink everything into getting ready for the next one. Let’s put the negative behind you and let’s try to win a hockey game on Saturday.”
On paper, the Canadiens (17-22-3), in last place in the Atlantic Division, present a great opportunity to gain a much-needed two points. They are on a 2-7-1 skid since Dec. 27, a span that including a seven-game losing streak. The Canadiens are 6-12-2 since Dec. 1.
But one win won’t necessarily turn the Islanders’ fortunes, not with games against the Capitals, who are well ahead of the Islanders in the wild-card race, and the NHL-leading Bruins to conclude this homestand.
Plus, the Penguins, ahead of the Islanders for the final wild-card spot, still have played two fewer games after hosting the Jets on Friday night.
“We have to start winning and collecting points, that’s the bottom line,” coach Lane Lambert said. “There’s always urgency, whether it be Game No. 1 or now. We talk about points at the start of the year counting just as much as they do now. So there’s always urgency.”
Side note: It’s not a great look for the organization that the first-year bench boss, promoted after four seasons as Barry Trotz’s associate coach, is being questioned about urgency at this time of the season.
But the Islanders certainly will have the opportunity to collect points if they somehow can right their game, starting by reducing the 23 giveaways they had against the Wild and increasing their goal production both five-on-five and on the power play.
The Islanders will start a stretch of four games in six nights on Saturday and nine in 15 days leading into their combined bye week/All-Star break.
“We played a good game,” Anders Lee said after Thursday’s loss. “We beat ourselves in the third. Up until that point, it was a solid game. It just can’t happen.”