The Islanders returned star forward Kyle Okposo but that monumental boost wasn’t enough to lift them over the Capitals last night.
Falling behind early for the eighth straight game and going 0-for-6 on the power play, the Islanders fell 2-1 to Washington at Nassau Coliseum in what was heralded as Okposo’s season debut.
The 22-year-old forward played for the first time since suffering a pre-season shoulder injury, a torn labrum in his right shoulder sustained during an intrasquad scrimmage back in September.
In his first regular-season game since April 11, Okposo had only one shot on goal over 17 shifts in 18:05 of ice time, but said he felt pretty good considering the length of time he has missed.
“My timing was a little off, but other than that my legs felt good and my lungs felt good, too,” he said.
On Okposo’s second shift of the game, Alex Ovechkin maneuvered past him at the right circle and laced one in front to Jason Chimera. Chimera’s seventh of the season—scored at 3:41 of the first—marked the eight straight game the Islanders have given up the first goal.
"Backstrom was coming in there, I was backchecking on him. I knew he was looking for Ovechkin and I pulled up on him at the last second and it that was all the time he needed to pass it in front," Okposo said.
Ovechkin chipped in with another assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal that gave the Caps a 2-0 lead in the second.
Goaltender Rick DiPietro, who returned after missing practice Wednesday with the flu, made a nice stop to stuff Ovechkin in the crease, but wasn’t ready for the second wave.
He left a rebound prone for the pouncing and Backstrom crashed the net to capitalize at 3:38.
Tallying a goal in his third straight game, speedy winger Michael Grabner easily blew past defenseman John Carlson and sharply backhanded the puck over Caps netminder Braden Holtby to cut Washington’s lead in half.
"[Bailey} had the puck on his stick. I knew he was going to flip it. It was a good shift by him," Grabner said. "I was just using my speed to get around the defenseman.
DiPietro, who returned Monday from a groin strain that shelved him for five games, battled through the flu again last night. He received fluids via IV after making 22 saves in the game and did not travel with the team to Buffalo last night.
Okposo’s return was a blunt reminder of the devastating losses that have plagued the Islanders from the onset of training camp.
The team also lost top defenseman and fellow alternate captain Mark Streit in the same week to a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his left shoulder. The former All-Star began skating on Monday, but is unlikely to return before March.
With Okposo back, however, the losses that have mounted over the season don’t seem quite as staggering.
“He’s a big part of our team,” said Zenon Konopka. “To get a player like that back in the middle of the season is unbelievable.”
Frans Nielsen returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a groin strain. Milan Jurcina, who suffered an upper body injury during the first period of Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Devils, did not play last night. He remains day-to-day. Rob Schremp and Kevin Poulin were the healthy scratches. Nathan Lawson backed up DiPietro.