Are the last two impotent efforts a knock on Jack Capuano for not having his troops ready to go -- or a contrasting sign that his underskilled roster had no business showing competitive efforts as often as they did when this season's outcome was still in doubt?
Or do you just blame the players (or excuse them, if you're charitable) for not mounting much as the final week plays out?
There's no excuse for being so flat on Fan Appreciation Day. But tonight's lethargic 3-1 loss to the Devils just looked like all-too-familiar, final-week, garbage-time hockey.
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Shots were 20-20, and the Islanders didn't mount a third-period shot until 15 minutes in. (Admittedly, it was a golden opportunity, Kyle Okposo mishitting Josh Bailey's feed on the doorstep.)
Much yawning was had.
The Islanders didn't draw a single powerplay. It was still 2-1 entering the final minute, but an Isles goal there would have added interest (and an extra point) to a night that didn't warrant it -- from either team, really, but the Devils could afford to play on autopilot given the beta autopilot that was controlling their opponent.
Of chief interest: Matt Donovan looked nice in his NHL debut, with insightful passing overall and mostly mistake-free defensive coverage. Not that the Devils even required much of that.
It started off alarmingly enough: Al Montoya overplayed a shot wide to his left, couldn't hang on, and ended up out of the crease when Petr Sykora retrieved to feed Patrik Elias in the slot for an easy goal. Not long after, Montoya misplayed a dump-in behind the net and saw it squirt out into the slot with the net unmanned. He settled down after that, but plays like that make you wonder where his head is as he builds audition tape for NHL work in 2012-13.
The Islanders got that goal back quickly, Matt Moulson scoring #35 on the season with a wobbly backhand from the slot.
Travis Zajac notched the winner on a powerplay just 22 seconds into the second period, soft PK coverage from the Isles' best penalty killers leaving Zajac all alone in the slot. Ilya Kovalchuk iced it with an empty-netter with 55 seconds left, and Okposo drew a misconduct at that point for something or other.
Talk about a Debut: Donovan skated 21:52 in his NHL debut. That's (barely) more than even Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald skated tonight. Donovan was fast, always looking up ice for seam passes, and paired mostly with Reese but got a few third-period shifts with Mark Streit and Hamonic.
Dylan Reese had 2:09 of PK time alone. Nino Niederreiter skated a (for him) healthy 12:49 and was on the ice in the final minute, though that effort was short-circuited by the Kovalchuk empty-netter. Nino was credited with five hits, which seems accurate.
On the fourth line -- sadly, one of their better lines tonight -- Matt Martin took six faceoffs, Jay Pandolfo took two.
JT 200: With his assist, John Tavares has 200 NHL points.
Someone caught Grabner? Really nice play by Mark Fayne to catch Michael Grabner on a partial breakaway and strip the puck, preventing any shot at all. No way that happens without Grabner at the end of his shift, but still. Impressive.
Later, comedy was had when Marek Zidlicky responded to his leaving Grabner all alone in front by trying to headlock him after the whistle, knocking his helmet off. Noticing the unimposing stature of his aggressor, Grabner actually showed some lip back. Not sure if it was in English, German, or a Slavic dialect.
Gritz: Micheal Haley fought Cam Janssen early after Janssen hit Mark Eaton cleanly and not all that viciously behind the Isles net. Haley drew the extra two minutes again. Again, that's fine in these meaningless games, but getting the extra two can't be a habit.
I'd complain that the Islanders had zero powerplays to the Devils' four (including the garbage time extra two to Okposo), but obviously their effort didn't exactly force any.
Brutality: The Devils lose Jacob Josefson for 4-6 weeks (early estimate) on a fluke play. Jay Pandolfo shoots and the follow through connects just wrong with Josefson's wrist, which is reaching in for a stick check.
The win puts the Devils in safe position for at least the 6th seed, which is probably right where they want to be whenever the Southeast Division decides who it would like to take its attendance prize.
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Another late-season dud. With an effort like that, it's actually merciful they didn't pick up a meaningless OT or shootout point to limit their draft options come June.
(There were much, much, MUCH more exciting contests going on in the other playoff-affecting games Tuesday night. Hope you caught those or saw the highlights on NHL Network.)