Just when John Tavares probably thought his week could not get any worse, this happened: He made a clearing attempt in the third period Saturday night, but Sami Vatanen of the Devils was there to stop the puck and continue the Islanders’ spiral.
“I just rimmed it around the boards and I think Vatanen kind of pinched. Their guys were just going to the net,” the captain said right after the 2-1 loss at Prudential Center, adding that it was up to each Islander to mark one of the Devils. “I was late tying up the stick.”
That left Long Island native Kyle Palmieri with enough freedom to tip home the winning goal at 11:11. “My fault on the second goal there,” Tavares said. “That was my guy in front of the net. I just didn’t tie him up well enough. Just a breakdown that led them to capitalizing on an opportunity.”
So the Islanders headed into the NHL trade deadline at 3 p.m. Monday having earned only one of six possible points in a week in which they played pretty well. It was all the more frustrating because their top line, with Tavares centering Anders Lee and Josh Bailey, has been silent when the team needs noise the most.
Two days earlier, Tavares said: “We know we can be a lot more consistent, starting with myself. All of it starts with me, setting an example for the group. So I’ve just got to go out and be really reliable all over the ice. Five-on-five, we’d like to be a lot more productive.”
But through Saturday, he had gone seven games without an assist and eight games without a goal in five-on-five situations. He and his linemates were on the ice for both of Palmieri’s third-period goals.
“He’s frustrated, but he knows how I feel about him. He’s just trying to work through it,” Doug Weight said. “We’ve got to get those guys going, that’s all there is to it. No one is more frustrated than them.”
Whatever spark the Islanders did show Saturday occurred when Mathew Barzal’s line, with Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle, was on the ice. Eberle, who scored the Islanders’ only goal, said: “You know what? Some nights Johnny is not pivotal to scoring tons of goals. We’re just trying to chip in. Some nights the puck doesn’t go in for us and other nights, for them. We had a couple chances where we could have had another one or another two, and so did they.”
For weeks, it has been easy to assume that if the Islanders were seeking help at the deadline, they would be looking for defense. Is there a chance they need a jolt of offense, too? Four times in the past 10 games (twice in regulation), the Islanders lost after taking a lead into the third period. It is as if the other teams had an extra gear in the final 20 minutes.
Barzal said the prospect of change has not weighed heavily in the locker room. “I think guys are just focused on that we are in a tight playoff race,” he said. “We need to win games right now. Guys are just dialed in on that.”
But a week went by without any wins.