TAMPA, Florida — They were more or less the first words out of Jack Capuano’s mouth Thursday when he was asked how the Islanders could avoid a rout like the one the Lightning handed to them nine days earlier.
“Stay out of the box,” he said, noting that the Isles allowed two early power-play goals to the Lightning last week in Brooklyn.
Apparently the message did not get through. The Islanders took three minors in the opening period and five in the first half of the game. That gave the Lightning’s deadly power play loads of time and two more goals in a 4-1 win over the Islanders on Thursday night.
The Isles have allowed 12 power-play goals in the past eight games after permitting one in the first six. It’s just another reason why they are bobbing along below .500 and are 2-4-2 in the last eight games while the Metropolitan Division playoff teams make space for themselves.
“We’re probably one of the most penalized teams in the league — and it’s not the refs, you know what I mean?” an exasperated Johnny Boychuk said. “We should’ve learned from the last game against them . . . You can kill the ones that are worth killing.”
John Tavares elbowed Tyler Johnson along the boards 6:38 in, stopping a decent start to the game by the Islanders. They hadn’t allowed a Tampa Bay shot on goal until that time.
But with the power play, the Lightning quickly seized control. Johnson threaded a pass across the high slot for Steven Stamkos, whose wrist shot ticked off Boychuk’s skate and past Jaroslav Halak for a 1-0 lead.
The Lightning made it 2-0 less than three minutes later on Nikita Kucherov’s wrist shot that zipped past Halak after some sloppy play by Tavares’ line in the defensive zone.
Calvin de Haan was whistled for interference when he knocked down Cedric Paquette in the crease 2:17 into the second period. Stamkos made a seam pass for Johnson’s one-timer that made it 3-0 and sent an angry Halak to the bench for Thomas Greiss.
Capuano wasn’t too pleased with Halak, who seemed fairly helpless on at least the two power-play goals.
“It’s about whether you feel he’s focused or not, that’s all,” Capuano said of the decision to pull Halak after three goals and 16 shots against. “We’ve got to find a way to kill a penalty, our goaltender included.”
Having to kill early penalties not only has set back the Islanders on the scoreboard but has set back any offensive flow by putting most of their top players on the bench for too long — or in the penalty box.
“It’s no secret that the amount of penalties we take is hurting us, and it starts with myself,” said Tavares, who has 16 penalty minutes this season.
The Islanders controlled long stretches of the second period and got within 3-1 on Andrew Ladd’s second goal in as many games at 8:04. But a turnover at the defensive blue line turned into a wrister by Brian Boyle past Greiss at 1:08 of the third.
Confidence seems to be in short supply with this 5-7-2 team, which will head across Florida to face the Panthers tomorrow before facing the Lightning in Brooklyn on Monday for the final time this regular season.
“The power-play goals are killing us,” Shane Prince said. “We were good five-on-five tonight. But it can’t help us now.”