And then, quickly, the New York Islanders returned to futile form.
In truth, Thursday's first period against the Phoenix Coyotes was no different than Tuesday's first period against the San Jose Sharks: The Islanders came out and got shelled, this time by a 17-6 shot total that required more Kevin Poulin heroics to keep the score at 1-1
The Isles actually had a 1-0 lead, from efficient offensive powerhouse Eric Boulton on a deflection, but true to recent form outlined by Chris McNally, the Isles gave that goal right back just 1:28 later.
The second period opened with an outright defensive implosion -- it was 4-1 by the 6:15 mark -- before the Islanders made one last-ditch effort with a pair of quick goals at the midway point to make it 4-3.
That was as close as it got. The 6-3 final felt inevitable.
But the Isles wasted a late power play that could have tied it at the second intermission, then gave up the backbreaker in the final minute after Calvin de Haan committed the kind of slip-up at center ice that got Matt Donovan a demotion. (It was a physical mistake and whiff, so I'm not sincerely suggesting grander punishment than what was already suffered.)
Jack Capuano was pretty pointed in criticism of the defense in the post-game, so hopefully there is only honest assessment and not another overreaction there. But the Islanders, as a whole, got outplayed and outworked heavily, save for the goal scorers and a few other exceptions.
If the Isles' 6-1 win over Coyotes flattered that October performance, tonight's 6-3 final score was a faithful reflection of how soundly they were defeated. Where once they were playing teams competitively but falling victim to poor goaltending or brief moments of mistakes the goalies couldn't save, tonight they were just bad. Poulin could not fully recreate his San Jose performance here -- a few goals were of the "need to have that" variety -- but he wasn't given much help.
The Islanders now have just four points from their last 12 games (1-9-2), with the lone win coming via shootout. If management believes it's more on injuries and the players' performance rather than their commitment to doing what the coaching staff asks, tonight was not a good supporting example. Brian Strait returned and had two assists, but the team generally did not, in the lexicon of coach Jack Capuano, "play the way we need to play."
The disastrous road trip is finally over. The team returns home wounded, beaten and limping along. Evgeni Nabokov better be one heck of an inspiring presence when he returns, presumably, for Saturday at home to the Canadiens. There will be a heavily partisan pro-Montreal crowd, and the fans in orange and blue will be ready to turn on them quickly.
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