The Islanders’ looming task of playing themselves back into playoff contention certainly appears daunting.
But that’s not how the team sees it.
"I don’t think it’s overwhelming at all," Mathew Barzal said. "We know we have a ton of games in hand. We know there’s 50 or so games left in the season. Also, we’ve been in situations before where we’ve been down or out of a playoff spot and battled our way back. This team has got a lot of resilience and a lot of character. We’re not feeling overwhelmed at all."
The Islanders opened a back-to-back, home-and-home series against the Flyers on Monday night at UBS Arena — the first of three games between the teams in nine days — coming off one of their more disappointing performances.
Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the visiting Capitals snapped a three-game winning streak. Losses are going to happen, but the Islanders’ inability to put pucks on net stood out. They managed only 13 shots while skating five-on-five to go with seven shots on an 0-for-3 power play and three more shots after goalie Semyon Varlamov was pulled for an extra skater.
With an open look from the right, Josh Bailey likely could have tied the score at 1 during a second-period power play, but he instead fed the puck to the crease.
"I didn’t see systematic issues," said associate coach Lane Lambert, who ran the team for three games before Barry Trotz returned from COVID-19 protocol on Monday night. "I just felt like we weren’t very sharp. I didn’t think we executed our passes good enough at times and it slowed our game down.
"We want more pucks to the net. We didn’t feel like we were aggressive enough last game."
The Islanders, still with nine games to be rescheduled after large-scale team COVID-19 outbreaks through the end of November and December, played their league-low 31st game on Monday. They entered the game 18 points out of a wild-card spot.
Saturday’s loss to the Capitals dropped the Islanders to 2-10-2 against teams holding playoff spots in the Eastern and Western Conferences. They have been outscored 46-21 in those games.
"Washington is just a really good team in this league and you’ve got to tip your cap every once in a while," Barzal said. "It’s not easy to score in the NHL every game. Hopefully it was just one of those games where the puck wouldn’t go in."
The Islanders had scored at least three goals in nine of their previous 11 games. Their power play was 10-for-30 in that stretch.
The Flyers, like the Islanders, have struggled through a roller-coaster season. Coach Alain Vigneault was fired on Dec. 6 after eight straight losses and replaced on an interim basis by Mike Yeo. Not much has changed; the Flyers entered Monday on an 0-5-2 slide.
"We’re not really concerned about how many they’ve lost in a row," Lambert said. "We are just concerned about playing our game."
The Islanders must win these types of games to have a chance to get back into the playoff race. After they played only two games from Dec. 20-Jan. 12, the schedule now becomes quite packed.
Monday concluded a seven-game homestand, but the Islanders will open another seven-game stretch at UBS Arena on Friday night against the Coyotes to take them into the All-Star break. The Flyers will return to town next Tuesday.
"This is a crucial stretch for us," Barzal said. "So regardless of who we’re playing, we’ve got to really dial our game in."