Management showed its faith in the Islanders by standing pat at the NHL trade deadline, though that didn’t immediately work out for them on Tuesday night. But this loss only punctuated coach Barry Trotz’s message as his team opened a five-game homestand of needing to elevate its game for the playoff push.
“We’re going to have to,” Trotz said. “It doesn’t matter if we have or if we haven’t. All the teams in this mix are winning so we’ve just got to take care of our own business. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to win our games.”
But the Islanders, seeking their first playoff berth since 2016, lost to the Pacific Division-leading Flames, who scored twice early in the third period, 3-1, on Tuesday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
The Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders (36-19-7) began a 1-1-1 Western Canada trip with a 4-2 defeat at Calgary last Wednesday. The second-place Capitals pulled even with the Islanders’ 79 points by routing the trade-depleted Senators, 7-2, on Tuesday night.
Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello opted not to mortgage the franchise’s future for a short-term rental that could have provided secondary scoring and bolstered the power play before Monday’s trade deadline. Instead, left wing Andrew Ladd and defenseman Thomas Hickey were activated off long-term injured reserve on Tuesday and added to the lineup.
“Our record and our success haven’t changed by adding or not adding,” said goalie Robin Lehner, who made 24 saves. “We know we’re a little bit off the standards we were. At the same time, it’s not like we’re accepting it. We’re aware.”
“It’s business as usual,” said right wing Josh Bailey, who scored the Islanders’ lone goal on a two-on-one rush with Valtteri Filppula at 7:39 of the second period. “We’ve had this group together all season long, some of us for a long time.”
Mike Smith made 26 saves for the Flames (40-16-7), who have won a season-high six straight and beat the Islanders for the second time in six days.
“It’s disappointing,” said defenseman Johnny Boychuk, adding this loss was a stronger performance than the one in Calgary. “We didn’t stink the whole arena out. We did some good things. But it’s still a loss and we still have to come back the next game. It’s going to be the most important of the year. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. It’s about us.”
Of course, the Islanders, playing eight of nine at the Coliseum, next face John Tavares’ Maple Leafs on Thursday night. Then come the Capitals on Friday night.
The Islanders were in a 1-1 tie after killing off a Flames’ five-on-three power play that lasted one minute, 31 seconds when Matt Martin was called for interference off an offensive zone faceoff and Cal Clutterbuck, trying to clear the puck down the ice on the penalty kill, instead shot it up into the netting for a delay of game at 18:39 of the second period.
But the Flames still went up 3-1 as Mikael Backlund connected on a wrist shot from the right circle at 3:15 of the third period and defenseman Rasmus Andersson scored on a slap shot from nearly the same spot at 5:12.
“It could have easily been 2-1, 3-1 us in the third period, we had a couple of open nets that didn’t go in and we played hard together,” Lehner said. “I felt like I played a really good game and then I let in a crap goal (to Andersson). It took the power out of our team and I take responsibility for that.”
Matthew Tkachuk’s between-the-legs power-play goal at 2:57 of the second period had given the Flames a 1-0 lead.