SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Islanders didn’t leave California without showing some fight.
Unfortunately for them, almost all of their inspired moments came with the game long decided in a scrum-filled third period in an otherwise uninspiring 4-1 loss to the Sharks on Saturday night at SAP Center.
“They came out hard,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “At the end of a road trip, we’ve got to be mentally prepared. It seemed like we weren’t executing.”
The Islanders (3-4-0) concluded a 1-3-0 road trip with their worst effort of the swing as the Sharks spent the better part of the 60 minutes parking themselves for free at goalie Robin Lehner’s net. A series of turnovers and, at times, seeming defensive indifference didn’t help matters, either.
All four of the Sharks’ goals came from close range and Lehner had to fight to see through bodies all night. He stopped 37 shots after making his Islanders debut with 35 saves in a 4-0 win over the Sharks at Barclays Center on Oct. 8
“It was not our best effort,” left wing Andrew Ladd said. “I think, obviously, our puck management wasn’t crisp and we had some turnovers that ended up in the back of our net. If our goalie didn’t play well, it could’ve been a lot worse.”
“At times, we weren’t really engaged,” added left wing Matt Martin, who was at the center of the third-period nastiness, as he accused Sharks defenseman Brent Burns of slew-footing him.
The game took a physical turn in the second period as Mayfield fought Barclay Goodrow at 16:10. The teams then totaled 66 penalty minutes in the third period, with Martin, Burns, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas all receiving 10-minute misconducts and captain Anders Lee fighting the Sharks’ Evander Kane at 17:26 after the two had jawed at each other in the penalty box.
Martin was furious after Burns wrapped his left leg around him and tripped him at 12:08.
“It’s a slew foot,” Martin said. “I wouldn’t call it a hockey play. I didn’t like it. I really don’t have anything else to say. It’s up to the league.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he knows Burns, a former Norris Trophy winner, very well. He called him a “real honest” player and added, “It would be out of character for him if he did it.”
The Islanders needed to show that physical edge in keeping the Sharks away from Lehner and creating more traffic around Martin Jones, who made 24 saves for the Sharks (4-3-1).
“I thought our battle level wasn’t as good as it needed to be,” Trotz said.
After getting a combined four goals and four assists from his bottom-six forwards in Thursday night’s 7-2 win in Los Angeles, Trotz wanted to see more even-strength production out of his top-six forwards via more of a presence around the opponent’s net.
Getting to the net helped the Islanders break even on the scoreboard at the first intermission although the bulk of the play was in their end in the first period.
Brock Nelson, who took a game-high seven shots, got to the crease to beat Jones and tie the score at 1-1 with 32.4 seconds left in the first period, completing a crisp sequence on the rush from linemates Josh Bailey and Lee.
But the Sharks took control in the second period.
Joonas Donskoi was left unchecked in a defensive breakdown started by Mayfield’s intercepted pass and popped in the puck at the left post as he skated below the goal line. That made it 2-1 at 4:59.
Seconds after hitting the post from close range, Burns muscled past Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey and converted on a backhander at the crease to make it 3-1 at 13:50 with the teams skating four-on-four.
Logan Couture made it 4-1 at 4:32 of the third period by getting past defenseman Ryan Pulock to the left post and knocking in the rebound after Tomas Hertl skated past Hickey behind the crease.
The Sharks had jumped to a 1-0 lead at 7:59 of the first period as the Islanders failed to clear the zone and Timo Meier, at the right post, lifted his own rebound over Lehner’s pad.