Perhaps earlier in the season when the New York Islanders frequently expressed satisfaction with their ability to "stick with it" in games that didn't start out as they liked, we should've read their never-say-die approach as a sign of something else: For the first time under coach Jack Capuano, they could fairly be accused of regularly failing to come hard out of the gate.
That issue which has haunted them often down the stretch haunted them again on Tuesday night. For the second consecutive night a better third period effort saved them. However this time instead of a regulation win as they salvaged Monday at home, their reward was only a 2-1 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
To be fair, that point kept them at 12-3-3 in their last 18 games and put them in position for home ice at the end of the night; so on some level that's quite impressive in a parity-leaning "results oriented" business. But the frequency with which they've not shown up for long stretches of games is an enduring red flag, unless they're masking some brilliant "saving ourselves for the playoffs" strategy whose rewards await us next month.
Jean-Francois Berube, kept in storage as the third goalie all season long and now suddenly very important as the backup during a busy final month to the season, looked like a goalie in fine form and halfway regular usage as he made 33 saves. Limiting the damage by keeping the game 1-0 for most of the evening, he was even better in overtime when tired Islanders legs let the Penguins run a three-man shooting gallery and pile up almost a quarter of their total shots for the game.
Berube was beaten only once in the shootout, a skills drill that again left shooters Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and John Tavares coming up empty.
It was Okposo's late power play goal forced that overtime, which salvaged a valuable standings point to pull the Isles into a tie with the Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division with one game in hand.
After Monday night's poor and increasingly common effort, Jack Capuano made a few other changes in the lineup, sitting Brock Nelson, Shane Prince and Ryan Pulock for Mikhail Grabovski, Steve Bernier and Brian Strait. For Nelson in particular the scratch had to burn, as it ended a 202 consecutive game iron man streak. Nelson has 22 goals on the season but only two in his last 19 games.
That left them lining up like this at forward:
Those of course would change over the course of the game, as the combos often have during this lengthy stretch of perplexing uninspired efforts. At one point Ryan Strome was centering Josh Bailey and Nikolay Kulemin, while Frans Nielsen centered Cal Clutteruck and Anders Lee.
One of the disturbing aspects of their play was how ineffective the power play was, particularly on the first and third opportunities out of four on the night. But it was that fourth and final power play opportunity that bailed them out, an extended run of control and shots in the Penguins zone that finally got the Islanders on the board with 5:25 left in regulation.
Okposo did quite well to retrieve a rebound that was squirting past the net, pull it back, and lift it over a prone Marc-Andre Fleury with two penalty killers diving to prevent the equalizer.
Okposo, who's collected quite a few highlights against Fleury in his career, almost made yet another with a chance from the high slot soon after he tied it at 1-1. That one went high and wide off the glass, however, the moment drawing a little too much enthusiasm behind the shot.
They created a couple more game-winner possibilities in overtime before settling into the shooting gallery, with the Pens outshooting them an almost unprecedented 7-2 in the five-minute three-on-three session.
Quote of the Night
"Well Eric just has too much time on his hands, coming up with some of these."
>>Butch Goring, lamenting the difficulty of the MSG trivia questions offered by longtime Islanders broadcast statistician and The Skinny purveyor Eric Hornick
This is frankly the busiest stretch of the season by far for the Islanders, so it's helpful that they have extra bodies to use when injury or coaching message dictates. How they're rotated is a matter for our endless debate, for which the next opportunity is Thursday in Nashville. This three-game trip finishes Saturday in Dallas