Casey Cizikas called this week’s Islanders games “do-or-die for us.” Mathew Barzal called the three-game stretch against Metropolitan Division clubs that began Tuesday night with Columbus “the biggest games of the year, I think.”
At least there are two more “biggest games” left. The Islanders were severely outshot and mostly outplayed by the Blue Jackets in a 4-1 defeat at Barclays Center.
“We just were flat,” coach Doug Weight said. He seemed as bewildered by that fact as any fan would be. The players talked a big game in the lead-up, but didn’t play one once the puck was dropped.
“No execution, that’s for sure,” Weight said. “They worked, but they were slow-footed, weren’t moving. They just were not good. Guys are emotional on the bench. They’re trying to get each other going. I don’t know.”
The Blue Jackets outshot the Islanders 51-30. Jaroslav Halak kept the home team in the game as long as he could, but Columbus took a 2-1 lead late in the second period on a power-play goal by Pierre Luc-Dubois and scored the first two goals of the third to send the Islanders to their second regulation defeat in a row.
“Just more of the same,” Anders Lee said.
The Islanders and Blue Jackets began the night just outside the second wild-card spot with 60 points apiece. The Islanders still have 60. The Islanders host the Rangers on Thursday and play at Carolina on Friday.
John Tavares picked up his 600th career point with a power-play goal in the first period.
Going into the game, Columbus was tied with Edmonton with the fewest power-play goals in the NHL with 22. But they had five in four games against the Islanders.
The Islanders came out firing with the first three shots on goal. But the Blue Jackets started peppering Halak from every angle and built up an 18-5 shots advantage.
Halak was up to the task, and the tide turned after Columbus’ Jussi Jokinen was whistled for tripping Cizikas seconds after the two tussled following a faceoff. Tavares scored his third power-play goal of the season to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 17:51. Tavares’ 29th goal was a case of right place, right time. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped an Anders Lee shot and almost covered up, but the puck trickled to the goalie’s right and Tavares skated in and poked the puck in.
The Islanders were outshot 26-11 in the period but went into the second with the lead.
“We knew they were going to come out hard, they were going to shoot everything,” Halak said. “The first two periods, I don’t think we shot enough.”
The Halak dam burst in the second, though. The Blue Jackets took the first seven shots. The seventh was a tying power-play goal by Oliver Bjorkstrand at 6:02 that got by a screened Halak’s left side. The penalty that led to the power play was painful and had the Islanders’ coaches shaking their heads. Nick Leddy flipped the puck into the crowd when trying to clear and was called for delay of game.
The Blue Jackets took a 2-1 lead with 57 seconds left in the period when the 19-year-old Luc-Dubois sent a wrister that dinged off the left post and past Halak. The Blue Jackets were on the power play thanks to a hooking call on Brock Nelson that wiped out the last 11 seconds of an Islanders power play.
In the third, the Islanders put on early pressure, but Bobrovsky scuttled several scoring chances. Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky made it 3-1 at 6:01, and Cam Atkinson gave the Blue Jackets a three-goal lead 34 seconds later.
“It comes down to execution and effort and playing with heart,” Halak said. “I think we need to just throw pucks at the net. You don’t know, it might bounce off somebody and that might be a winning goal.”