The New York Islanders returned from Christmas break without John Tavares in the lineup, and offense proved difficult to generate without their franchise star. In another costly Metropolitan Division meeting, the Isles lost 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils, making it eight games at home without a win (0-4-4).
The result keeps them deeply buried in last place in the Metro, while keeping the Devils in the morass of quasi-.500 teams fighting for the third spot in this putrid group -- a putrid group, that is, that the Isles can somehow only look up to.
Brock Nelson (whose last shift ended at 12:11 of the third) and occasionally Ryan Strome provided their best effort skating between Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo in Tavares' absence, but it was Frans Nielsen who took that role, and the Islanders only goal, in the third period as the Isles pushed for the equalizer. (Josh Bailey also disappeared at the 10:39 mark of the period, clearly going to the locker room with some kind of injury.)
That period saw the Islanders' best and only productive effort, but that too was not enough.
After pressing for most of the period to that point, the Islanders finally broke through on a turnover, Frans Nielsen scoring to tie it 1-1 at 10:31. In all too familiar and painful fashion, however, the Devils undid the Isles' equalizer work soon after, with a Marek Zidlicky shot deflecting in off Travis Zajac's chest at 13:03 to give the Devils the lead again.
The Islanders had one late power play to try to tie it, again, but that and the final minutes saw shots and passes toward the net but never any connection that required much from Devils goalie Cory Schneider.
You can't say the Isles returned from Christmas break the same as they entered it -- they beat Detroit 3-0 on Monday night -- but their status and standing does indeed remain the same: Broken, inadequate and unlucky, a lethal combination.
The Islanders get right on a plane to play in Minnesota tomorrow (Sunday) night, with tough games against Boston and Chicago also on the docket next week.