Perhaps the Islanders are learning a very powerful lesson about how losing streaks happen: It's not necessarily your worst games that make them longer; it's the nights you took off earlier in the streak -- Passenger Nights, we'll call them -- and now when the losses mount and the pressure increases, even your 60/40 efforts against injury-ravaged teams you should beat extend the pain.
With a 3-0 boo-rific home loss to the Jets tonight, the Islanders haven't won in six games and have picked up regulation points in only two of the last three. The Islanders' first three losses (all regulation) in this streak were by far their worst.
The last three games have seen improvement in various areas, including the Enigma Trio third line, but avoid those first three passenger nights and you have maybe a 0-1-2 streak right now. Instead, you have 0-4-2 and deserve every bit of scorn coming your way from fan and coach alike.
Surprisingly, the villains were Travis Hamonic -- excited for the first game against his revived hometown Jets -- and partner Andrew MacDonald. Neither has been as good as they were last year, but tonight they were directly responsible for both Jets goals.
Hamonic could have intercepted the outlet to Evander Kane, could have avoided getting turned inside out by Kane, and could have caught him on the backcheck with A-Mac providing an obstacle. A-Mac could have done a better job winning the puck as Kane lost it in the crowd of feet. Backchecking, Blake Comeau watched it all happen -- no doubt assuming Kane wouldn't make the Isles' best pair look silly.
Almost to add confession to the insult, Hamonic initiated a fight with Kane at the end of the first period. Thank Bossy Hamonic does not elicit the universal hatred reserved for Matt Cooke, and as a result Kane showed mercy while rag-dolling Hamonic around.
"Obviously, I preach that you fight for a few reasons and trying to spark the team is one of the main ones," Hamonic said. "I found a willing combatant in Evander Kane, he’s a tough kid and I think he wanted to go as well, so I just tried to do it for those reasons."
Two periods and many frustrating bounces and stymied powerplays later, the game was iced when MacDonald tapped in a Johnny Oduya pass to make it 2-0. Cruelly, MacDonald's own goal came just seconds after Nik Antropov nearly tied the game by sweeping the puck back at his own goal, hitting Ondrej Pavelec's post.
John Tavares and the gang made the powerplay threatening but in want of a good bounce. Everyone in the lineup had shots on goal except for P.A. Pareneteau and Jay Pandolfo, and most had multiple shot attempts. The enigmas Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey continued their slow improvement -- again they had their bad moments, but on the whole they looked much more organized and threatening -- it was the offense overall that continued to slump.
Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Frans NIelsen have not really resembled the beloved FNGO but for one shift where they kept the Jets hemmed in for a solid 30 seconds. Okposo had a memorable chance on his backhand, though upon further review Pavelec had done well to cut off his angle and leave him with little option. Nielsen had a nice chance in front, and Grabner and Okposo both jumped on the rebound, with Festerling can-opening Okposo something fierce (no call, but it did get Okposo to show some life in the scrum afterward).
But for everyone, you have to shave off the first half of the first period and most of the third to enclose the part of the game where "progress" was shown, where if luck had rewarded their effort then we'd not be talking about a streak anymore.
Time for Shake-Ups?
I know I try to keep an upbeat attitude -- part of that is simply a practical tactic, as there are plenty of fans and anonymous commenters to lose their head for all of us -- but part of it is because it's far too easy to go Win=Yay!, Loss=Baaad! Game to game, hockey has luck and happenstance (and B.S. OT penalties) that defy that convenient narrative about wins and losses.
The Islanders objectively have played better in the last three games than the prior three in this streak. (Of course, you could handicap them tonight for failing to come out and dominate a team ravaged by blueline injuries. Mark Flood and Brett Festerling?) But there is also a fragile, lifeless element to this streak. There is a sense of a team that played a very good second period just folding in the third under the frustrated boos of fans who hoped for a goal (and more shots, naturally).
So does that mean a callup is in order, or at least line shuffling? Even just for the first period Saturday, to shock the team's collective system? Or is mixing it up now just doubling the risk against a very dangerous team like the Capitals?
"You have to score goals and I’m not going to keep harping on it, but they have to find a way to get it done," Capuano said. "So I’m probably going to change some lines, do some different things, going into Washington."
Whatever your thought, Jack Capuano sounded like he was doing more than calling out passengers in the post-game. Sounds like change is afoot for Saturday. I don't blame him for being patient -- his predecessor was often chided for mixing lines too often -- but clearly this young team has not rewarded his patience. Of if rewarded, too little too late.
At this point, after three shutouts in 10 games, after six games yielding only two points, after seven goals in those six games ... it's time to change something.