It's been talked about before, but we'll do it again. This season has changed expectations for the Islanders.
We have seen them spend whole periods - hell, whole games - in their opponent's ends and stifle and suffocate some pretty good teams. We have also seen, in years past, the Islanders go months without winning. Or, it least, it has seemed that way.
When those two forces combine, it makes bad periods feel like something is seriously wrong with the entire team and could be a tipping point into the void. And when it happens for two straight games - one against a sad puppy, another against a better but still beatable opponent - the pressure intensifies.
Tonight against the Canucks, the Islanders were careless with the puck repeatedly, something they have religiously and refreshingly refused to be this season. And despite talking about cleaning up their game following a trainwreck in Edmonton two nights ago, the Islanders made many of the same mistakes.
So after going 2-2 in Western Canada, the Islanders will return east where we hope they'll find the mojo they seemed to not bring enough of on the trip.
Wake Up Call
The Islanders did little to assuage fears of an Edmonton sequel by playing a sleepy, sloppy first few minutes. Matt Martin woke the place up by redirecting a Travis Hamonic feed past Eddie Lack (or it went off Kevin Bieksa's foot. Depends on who you ask).
It didn't change the tempo. A Brock Nelson giveaway and disjointed collapse led to Ryan Stanton's near-empty-netter to tie the game. That, plus turnovers by Calvin de Haan and Matt Donovan among others had the Islanders chasing in their own zone and gave the Canucks chances to haul off on Jaroslav Halak.
After one paltry early power play, the Islanders were given a second late in the period. The best scoring chance went to the Sedin Twins, who had a two-on-one breakaway that was shut down by Halak.
Despite the Islanders looking a little more like themselves for stretches of the second, more turnovers led to more Canucks goals. Hickey had two giveaways on the same shift (one under pressure) and with all of Hickey's teammates on his side of the ice, possibly to console him, Nick Bonino cashed in on a rebound from a point shot. Later, a Hickey drop for Mikhail Grabovski went to Derek Dorsett, who sent injury replacement Linden Vey in on a net-crashing breakaway for a 3-1 lead.
There were a lot of turnovers. Don't believe me? Take it from Jiggs during the second intermission:
"They've been very charitable with giveaways, listing the Islanders with only seven." - Jiggs McDonald.
— Dan Saraceni (@cultureoflosing) January 7, 2015
Score effects seemed to be kicking in during the third, but for the Islanders, any positive was a welcome one. After killing a penalty, a Kyle Okposo spin move found Grabovski open in the slot of the net for his first goal in 10 games.
A push by the Islanders in the final five minutes wasn't enough to tie. Tavares sat in the slot waiting for a pass that never came and Vancouver skated off with a 3-2 win.
- Hickey, Donovan and Nelson had bad games. According to my sources (aka @HockeyGoalieEh), both Donovan and Hickey were playing on their off sides. I have no idea how this affects things, but that pairing was not right.
- In spite of the turnovers, I thought the Islanders were marginally better than they were in Edmonton. Butch Goring seemed to think the opposite, so he and I will have to agree to disagree.
- As if to illustrate how out-of-sync they were, the Islanders' two penalties on the evening were both for having too many men on the ice.
- In fairness, both Islanders goals came off of Canucks turnovers, too. Vancouver was better, but the game wasn't a crisp one for anybody.
- For some teams, a power play is an opportunity to get back into a game. Last night, the Islanders were not one of those teams. There was one decent chance a power play that opened the third period, but other than that, the man advantage wasn't much of one.
- Every Canucks breakout looks designed to lead to either a two-on-one or a breakaway. Almost like NHL 95. That must be a pretty exciting thing when the team is cooking.
- For the goalie obsessed, Halak was fine.
- There's no shame in splitting the Western Canada swing. But the way they Islanders did it - and losing to the friggin' Oilers, of all teams - makes it seem much worse.
- In Jersey on Friday, in Columbus on Saturday, at MSG Tuesday. Not easy by any means, but picking up points against the division is obviously crucial and can wash away the bitter taste of a messy trip to the Western Conference pretty quickly.