The New York Islanders completed a winless three-game (0-2-1) road trip with another night struggling to find offense, falling 3-0 to the Stars in Dallas as the game steadily slipped out of reach during the second half.
On the day's lone bright side, the Rangers were "garbage" (but I repeat myself) and lost in San Jose earlier in the day. But the Penguins beat the Flyers -- the Isles' next opponent on Monday -- so the Islanders entered the game already having dropped into wild card territory.
With no late comeback and no goals, they stayed there by night's end.
After winning the first four games of March, the Isles are in a 1-3-2 slump that has things looking a little more dangerous with 12 games to go in the regular season. The Flyers, also with 12 games remaining, are five points behind and face the Isles both Monday and on the final day of the season
It was a careful, territorial-management game from both sides through the first two periods -- far from the track meet we've come to expect when these two teams meet. The Islanders killed three Stars power plays in the first 40 minutes, while the Islanders offered zero threat on their lone power play opportunity. Shots were 25-20 through two periods. Dallas finally got the game's first goal 13 minutes into the second period, and they did everything they needed to protect and build on that lead.
On their first goal, the Stars took advantage of a faceoff win in their own zone, followed by Calvin de Haan getting caught with the wrong decision to support two forwards and try to keep the puck in. The Isles forwards couldn't keep it from getting out, de Haan was caught in no man's land, and that allowed Cody Eakin to lead a two-on-one with Jamie Benn against Travis Hamonic. With Hamonic playing the middle, Eakin elected to fake a pass and then whistle his shot in off the far post.
The Stars added insurance in the third when Patrick Eaves pounced on one of the Isles' strengths. Nick Leddy rushed through the neutral zone with speed and sent Frans Nielsen in over the blueline. Eaves absolutely picked Nielsen's pocket from behind and raced the opposite way on an uncontested breakaway. Thomas Greiss made the first save, but Eaves scored on the rebound.
The Isles pulled Greiss for a sixth attacker with four minutes left and had one mildly close chance playing the puck off teh end boards where they thought they'd scored. But the puck never crossed the line, and they spent the entire night without beating Lehtonen. Alex Hemsky deposited an empty net goal from center ice with just under three minutes to go to remove any remnant and futile hope.
Again, on the scoreboard it was a tight game throughout and there were a couple of moments where things could have gone the opposite way, one notably coming when Anders Lee's deflection in front skittered agonizingly wide behind Kari Lehtonen. But the Isles gave up the greater share of dangerous scoring chances, were outpossessed, and there were far more moments where the Stars could have made this a blowout. Though Lehtonen gets the shutout, it's fair to say Greiss had the more demanding and impressive performance.
With three strong and in-form opponents on this road trip they have paid the price for not bringing their A game. Now with the Penguins having won their fifth in a row and overtaken them, they feel it in the standings too.
Casey Cizikas was back (though not fully healthy) from his one-day absence on an unspecified "day to day" injury, Brian Strait was in for Ryan Pulock, and the lines were mixed up again as Jack Capuano searched for an answer on offense. Neil Best's game notes column on these had two quotes, both familiar in their own ways, one a sign of the slump and the other a sign of madness.
The captain noted the line shuffling is "usually an indication you’re not playing very well," but they're all familiar with each other because they've all been lined up together before.
The coach explained Strait is "a heavy player; he’s an experienced guy," Capuano said. "I have said all along: Ryan’s going to play games down the stretch. But we have to utilize everybody. "I think Brian’s played extremely well. He probably had no right to come out after the Pittsburgh game..."
See the full Newsday article for the full quotes. And try not to hit anyone.