The New York Islanders lost their third regulation game in a row for just the third time through 50 games of this season, falling prey to a Florida Panthers team that was playing on back-to-back nights but hardly looked it. Instead it was the Isles, 4-2 losers, who looked a step off for much of the game as they scuffled to get their game back.
They showed signs of it in spurts -- the second period most of all, if we're grasping straws -- but they met a Panthers team that was organized and disciplined in ending its own two-game losing streak.
Anders Lee scored both Islanders goals, one at even strength and one on the power play, in one bright note from his first game as the Tavares Winger of the Week. His 15th goal of the season quietly puts him in a tie for third among rookies.
This one was a "schedule win" that the Isles outright lost, doing themselves no favors as they head out for a three-game road trip through Philadelphia, Boston and Buffalo as a busy February gets underway. The losing streak has been cushioned by recent losses from their neighbors too, but of course the margin at the top of the Metro is unsettlingly thin.
How It Went Down, Down
Things couldn't have begun more sweetly for Lee in his first official night on the first line. Lee held up onside at the blueline while John Tavares carried in and fed through the slot to Josh Bailey who -- "Josh is a pass-first guy" -- set up Lee brilliantly for a one timer just 1:44 into the game.
But the Panthers had a determined forecheck throughout and hardly looked like a team that played the previous night. Jimmy Hayes tied it three minutes later on a great deflection after the Panthers kept the puck pinging around the Isles' zone after a faceoff there.
The Islanders had the better of play through most of the second period, but there were definite hiccups and frustrating obstacles created by the Panthers. And, typical of the hockey interruptus flow of play, a broken Panthers breakout became an opportunity for Erik Gudbranson, who jumped into the channel to outrush Casey Cizikas to the net and place a sneaky but want-it-back backhander near post on Jaroslav Halak.
Lee equalized with his second of the night as the Isles' second power play unit cashed in. He tapped his stick in the slot for several moments before Travis Hamonic delivered the feed on a slap pass that Lee deflected into the upper corner of the net.
WIth under two minutes left in the second, Dave Bolland did as Dave Bolland does, delivering a hard check on John Tavares with an extra forearm strait to the Isles' franchise player's nose. No call was forthcoming, and Tavares broke his own stick on the retaliatory slash.
The PK that followed was a very "no f-ing way" PK, with the Isles at least standing up for their captain by killing off his penalty if not avenging the high hit.
But the Isles took another penalty early in the third period, Brandon Pirri taking a Cal Clutterbuck high stick and then, as Butch Goring was quick to point out (cc: NHL), pirouetting in a rather embellish-worthy kind of way. Following a familiar script for Isles' opponents this year, the Panthers cashed in quickly. They worked the puck well from the faceoff, to the point, to Nick Bjugstad for a one-timer, which Hayes knocked in on the rebound.
The Isles trailed 3-2 with 18 minutes left to try to equalize again.
The Panthers for the most part held the Isles and their fans frustrated and at bay, however.
With three minutes left, the Panthers were called for one of those hand-on-the-puck faceoff violations, though Pirri was sent to the box for a violation that faceoff specialist Derek MacKenzie actually committed.
The Isles basically wasted that power play, though they did generate some pressure afterward with Halak pulled for some 6-on-5 time. Pirri, still on the shift after emerging from the box, finished the game off with an empty netter from center ice.
Call it a curse, call it merchandise, call it history...it's just warmups:
Quote(s) of the Night
"And a juicy rebound left by Al Montoya. We remember that from his Islanders days."
-- Howie Rose, meanwhile -- the hockey gods responding swiftly -- Erik Gudbranson skates the other way and beats Halak with a short-side backhand.]
#isles Capuano: "I'm opting out of penalty killing questions tonight"— Matt Saidman (@MattSaidman) February 4, 2015
Billy Carroll was also in the house, evidently for the first time in about 20 years, so he and Butch Goring talked penalty killing and the old days during the first intermission. (Carroll was a member of the Cup winners in 1981-83 before heading to Edmonton and winning one there.) Nothing particularly quote-worthy there, but it was a fun enough conversation as most of these have been during this Nassau Coliseum farewell season.