Throughout the first half of a season where nothing has seemed as impressive nor smooth as it was in 2014-15, the New York Islanders' penalty kill and team goaltending has held them afloat while other areas -- notably the overall offense and consistency of coherence at five-on-five -- has stagnated.
They again relied on both of those crutches Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. But the offense, the neutral zone play and the breakouts were as vacant as they've been since the Islanders became relevant again.
The result was a 4-0 loss that felt assured as soon as the first goal came early in the second period. Steve Mason received one of those attendance prize shutouts for being the goalie of record, making 20 official saves, only 10 of them through the first 40 minutes, and only two or three that would have beaten a bantam goalie.
Vague Details from an Afternoon Nap
The Islanders killed off their first penalty early in the second, but the residue from that kill remained as Michael Raffl scored on a pretty passing play six seconds after Nick Leddy's interference penalty expired. Then on a 4-on-4, Brian Strait and Brock Nelson nearly took each other out in the defensive zone to allow Evgeny Medvedev an uncontested approach on Jaroslav Halak to make it 2-0.
The Isles were outshot 11-2 in the first period and their best opportunities missed the net entirely. Things were only mildly better in the second -- though the period shot disparity improved to 10-8 -- as the Isles plainly looked like they slept in.
Some line juggling -- and/or a pervading sense of shame -- as the third period began ignited a little more assertiveness from the team. But then that's what you'd expect regardless when trailing 2-0 with 20 minutes to recover. And it was still hit and miss.
A miscommunication turnover halfway through the third allowed Matt Read to remove all dou--...oh let's be real, this game's outcome was long since decided when he beat Halak to make it 3-0. To add insult to insult, the Isles allowed terrible person and hockey criminal Radko Gudas his first goal of the season to finish scoring. Anders Lee and Brandon Manning fought shortly after that because, come on, we let Gudas score?
Ashes to Ashes
In one sense, it can be filed away as "just one of those days" after a matinee stinker. They cling on to second place in the Metro and they are still 3-3, or 4-4 depending on where you cut it off, during this slumping stretch. But key injuries to Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic aside (their replacements Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech were hardly a problem), Saturday's performance merely continued a disconcerting malaise and inconsistency that the penalty kill and goalies can only mask for so long, or so often.
Saturday's "effort" was so sleep-inducing, I don't even have the energy to tear into specific mistakes.
How the Isles could show up only to so glaringly "not show up" is almost incomprehensible. It was as if they were still deflated by Thursday's loss to Washington, itself an uninspiring effort for a "big game" that perhaps made them all doubt their aspirations to overcome last year's playoff conqueror.
In relatively lengthy comments for an MSG interview -- before this game -- about his impressions of the first half, coach Jack Capuano said the team was in decent position (they are, they just threaten to waste it) but that consistency overall and from several "certain guys" was lacking.
Few individuals in the lineup can claim a steady and impressive first 41 games. (Absolutely no one can claim one for Game 42). The next question is what might finally click, or what changes will be made, to correct that over the remaining 40?
Five of their six remaining games before the All-Star break are at home. Will they play like that's any sort of advantage? Will they realize that "we were good last season, management showed faith in this group" isn't enough to simply replicate, much less build upon, last season? Or will we come out the other side of the NHL's third-quarter exhibition wondering which major changes, be they strategic or knee-jerk, are due?