The Islanders have gotten away with being slow out of the gate before -- five straight on the road, to be exact, where they fell behind by a goal or two or even three and fought back to win.
They tempted fate once too often with another bad start last night and this one was costly. The Islanders trailed just 32 seconds into their game with the Panthers, went down 3-0 after a period and 4-0 late in the second.
The 4-2 final was not for a lack of desperation in the closing minutes. It was all about the lack of cohesion and smarts in the opening minutes that snapped the Islanders' four-game win streak and seven-game road win streak.
"We need to start coming ready to play," Matt Martin said. "It's something we've had trouble with all year, even though we've come back to win some games lately. It's a 60-minute game. We've done well for 40 minutes a lot of nights, but that's not enough."
Glaring turnovers left Kevin Poulin helpless on three of the Panthers' four goals on a night when the hosts did not dominate for long stretches, but got golden chances and buried them.
The first came on the first shift. Andrew MacDonald's outlet pass up the middle was picked off by former Islander Brad Boyes, then MacDonald and Kyle Okposo both hit the deck after colliding with Sean Bergenheim, leaving Boyes and Aleksander Barkov walking in two-on-one. Barkov buried the goal behind a flailing Poulin and the Islanders were in a familiar spot very quickly.
Drew Shore's toss from the right circle banked off Brian Strait's skate and in at 15:34, but then the killer: Okposo threw a bad pass up the middle with his teammates in full steam up the ice in the final minute of the first. Scottie Upshall fed Nick Bjugstad, who walked in alone and beat Poulin with 35.8 seconds left in the first.
"It was a couple turnovers and obviously mine was a big one," Okposo said. "That's a big hole to climb out of."
On the power play, MacDonald settled a pass at his feet but Upshall still walked it through the defenseman for a shorthanded breakaway and a 4-0 deficit.
Colin McDonald scored late in the second and Thomas Vanek scored early in the third to bring the Islanders to life, but Tim Thomas made 14 third-period saves and the Islanders' furious energy did not produce the stirring comeback it did in Dallas, Denver, Toronto, Boston and St. Paul, the last five road rally stops.
"We talk about managing the puck all the time. The first and the third goals, it's just putting the puck in areas we shouldn't put it," Jack Capuano said. "It's just about making the right decisions with the puck."
The Islanders head on to Tampa and then Philadelphia to close out this six-game road trip that started so well, with three come-from-behind wins. Now the Islanders are fully reminded of what usually happens when you spot a home team a goal, or two, or more.
"I think it's just being better prepared mentally," McDonald said. "Especially on the road, you know the home team wants to get off to a fast start. Instead of sitting back and waiting, we need to take a different mind-set."