Although leading goal-scorer Matt Moulson stoically battled through a left knee injury to bolster the Islanders’ thin crop of forwards, the team’s devastating decimation on defense was all too apparent in the team’s 5-0 shutout loss to Nashville at Bridgestone Arena last night.
Without the experience of veteran blue-liners Radek Martinek (left arm) and Mark Eaton (groin), the Islanders looked exposed and vulnerable on defense in their latest loss, their 20th defeat in 21 games.
“We had a tough night back there, I’m not going to lie to you,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “We had a lot of giveaways, we didn’t move the puck fast enough. That’s why we spent so much of the second period in our own end. We just didn’t move it.
Swedish rookie Anders Lindmark posted his second straight shutout and Patric Hornqvist notched two goals in the Predators sixth win in the last seven games.
For the 17th time this season, the Islanders surrendered the first goal of the game as Sergei Kostitsyn tallied a power-play goal at 11:15 in the first period.
The Predators scored twice more in the second period to leave the Islanders trailing by 3 goals less than halfway through the game.
Defenseman Shane O’Brien set up Hornqvist up with a juicy rebound after jumping over Moulson to get his point shot through at 5:22.
A little over two minutes later, Jerred Smithson wrangled a bouncing puck –call-up defenseman Dylan Reese fanned on a clearing attempt--and banked in a goal off the pads of goaltender Dwayne Roloson at 7:31.
“I don’t know if it’s because we’re so young, but we have a tough time coming back from giving up the first goal, like all the air is out of our balloon,” defenseman James Wisniewski said.
Hornqvist scored again in the third period, burying his own rebound for a wraparound goal at 13:55 for a 4-0 Predators lead in the third period. With a two man-advantage, Nick Spaling scored his first NHL goal with 1:45 to play in regulation.
Eaton and Martinek’s absence only adds to the Islanders’ severely-hobbled back end. Mark Streit (shoulder), Mike Mottau (eye) and Milan Jurcina (hamstring) are also out with injury.
August acquisition James Wisniewski is the only defenseman that has not missed a game this season due to injury, although he too has missed time. He sat out two games in October while serving a suspension for an obscene gesture toward Rangers master irritant Sean Avery.
That lack of continuity on the back end has been problematic.
“I know for me personally, I’ve had about six [defensive] partners, so that’s tough as it is,” Wisniewski said. “You get used to someone and you get use to their tendencies—where they’re going to be and how you’re going to do things."
Although now healthy, young defensive stalwarts Andrew MacDonald and Jack Hillen have also both missed significant time—with a broken hand and concussion, respectively.
And while top defensive prospect Travis Hamonic has been impressive in his eight-game stint since being called up on November 23, the team’s need for depth and experience on defense is painfully obvious, nonetheless.
“Leadership is a big part of any NHL team,” said Hamonic, who played 22:04 last night.. “There were a couple key guys missing on the back end, but there are no excuses here. Young guys like myself have to come in and contribute.”