For three days, the Islanders will part ways for this weekend’s All-Star break in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Some are planning a getaway to Vermont, a few are attending a friend’s wedding in Montreal and a handful are heading home for some home-cooking.
But last night’s 4-2 loss to Carolina will give them plenty to reflect upon during their brief respite. About what has happened over the past four months and what needs to happen to turn a tumultuous season around in the 32 games remaining.
"The message is, 'Enjoy your break, but when we get back, it's back to business," Jack Capuano said. "We're not going to keep losing games and reward guys who shouldn't be rewarded."
One issue the Islanders must address once they reconvene is the poor starts that have dogged them over the past month.
For the 11th time in 12 games, the Islanders gave up the first goal when Hurricanes winger Zach Boychuk beat DiPietro at 14:43 of the first.
"There wasn't much spark on the bench. We started the first period pretty slow," Grabner said.
Austrian winger Michael Grabner, who will represent the Islanders as a rookie in the All Star Game skills competition this weekend, tied the game with a pretty back-hander 31 seconds into the second period.
However, All-Star captain Eric Staal tallied twice in the middle frame for a 3-1 Hurricanes lead.
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald dove to block a pass on a Canes’ rush, only to tip the puck to Staal for his first of the period at 5:55. His 25th of the season came after redirecting Joe Cordvo’s drive from the blue line at 7:23. Brandon Sutter piled on for a 4-1 lead in the third.
DiPietro, who entered the game with a 5-11-1 record against Carolina with a 3.59 goals against average and .877 save percentage, gave up four goals on 32 shots.
It was the first time DiPietro faced the Canes since an abysmal 7-2 blowout November 3.
Much has changed from that eyesore, arguably the team’s ugliest loss this season.
Most notably, the coach.
Since replacing Scott Gordon in November, Jack Capuano has posted a record of 11-16-4. But while the Islanders have responded well to Capuano’s player-friendly approach, the team has not entirely shed the struggles that led to Gordon’s dismissal.
The Islanders are still battling the Devils for the bottom of the league’s standings—the Islanders have 37 points, the Devils 35.
"Attention to detail," Zenon Konopka said when asked what needs to improve. A lot of the small things we're not doing. We're a young group but we need to be more consistent."
They are leading the league with 314 man-games lost, with significant injuries to defensemen Mark Streit, Mark Eaton, Mike Mottau, and Milan Jurcina.
Several other veterans are now missing as well. Captain Doug Weight has been sidelined by a back injury virtually the whole season. James Wisniewski and Dwayne Roloson have been traded. Jon Sim parted with the team to play overseas in Switzerland.
And the lack of continuity in goal has persisted. Roloson and DiPietro began the season as the team’s tandem in net, but now rookies Nathan Lawson and Kevin Poulin’s have been added to the mix (Lawson is out 1-2 weeks with a left knee injury, however).
That leaves a lot of the work ahead to the team’s young nucleus of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and MacDonald.
“I just want to see us challenge each team we play every night,” said Tavares, who leads the team with 18 goals. “Really gain an identity for ourselves and what type of hockey team we’re going to be now and in the future.”
“You can never doubt our efforts and what that can bring,” Tavares said before mentioning a mantra from Nielsen. “Will will beat skill. That will be something we go by a lot more now. We have enough talent to have that success.”