There are games where you think all is lost from early on, and there are games where you think everything is falling just right for a memorable night.
Then there are nights that have both, like tonight, where the former was periodically interrupted by the latter as the Islanders erased a 3-0 deficit and then erased all that effort in the blink of an eye. Josh Bailey scored his first career hat trick, but the Islanders were constantly chasing their misdeeds from the opening minutes.
Losing consecutive games in regulation for the first time all season, the Isles lost 6-4 in Columbus to fall four points behind the division leaders and a troubling 4-5-1 over their last 10 games.
I like the @EliasSports note that among players who never had a hat trick for #Isles, only Duane Sutter (121) had scored more goals than Bailey (111 before Thurs).— Eric Hornick (@ehornick) December 15, 2017
Rising quickly on that list: Anders Lee!
First Period: Another bad start
They talk about their issue with starting slow, or with getting scored on early, and tonight you couldn’t even begin to ponder whether they’d dodged it before it struck again. With the Blue Jackets coming off a horrific loss to the Oilers, you knew they’d come out with a push.
In terms of flow and rushes, the game actually started evenly... except the Blue Jackets created golden chances and scored goals on two of their first three shots.
Though Thomas Greiss has struggled much of this season, these goals weren’t exactly his fault, as the Isles’ second line and Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock pair were caught flatfooted and disorganized against Columbus cycling.
Outstanding young defenseman Zach Werenski pinched to the crease to convert the first one at 3:57 for his 10th goal of the season.
The Islanders’ second line was spun around in its own zone again by Alex Wennberg’s orbit until Markus Nutivaara converted the rebound at 6:23. Shots were just 3-2 at that point, but deflation set in.
From there forward in the first period the Blue Jackets really poured the shots on and controlled play, but they didn’t get their third goal until nine minutes later Pierre-Luc Dubois converted on the power play.
It felt like the night was over. Shots at the break were 16-4 for Columbus.
Second Period: Comeback? For a moment
The Islanders say they feel like they are never out of a game, and though the second period did not start with much hope, they backed up that mantra with their efforts in the final two periods. It must be said that includes Greiss, who made some good saves on Blue Jackets odd-man rushes as the Isles pushed to get back in the game.
Josh Bailey’s oops-I-fanned-but-scored shot after a nice move in the slot got them on the board five minutes into the second.
Two minutes later, Casey Cizikas slammed home the rebound of a long shot that never got to Sergei Bobrovsky, drawing him out of position as he prepared to stop a shot that redirected to Cizikas instead. Suddenly we had a game.
When Boone Jenner took a penalty a minute later, the Isles had a chance to tie it and really turn the screws. That power play came up empty, but Bailey did tie it a couple of minutes later on a backhand after another good cycle sequence by the top line.
At 13:52, it was a new game, and considering the Blue Jackets’ previous loss you hoped a sense of doom might go to their heads. They were missing Brandon Dubinsky, maybe their fight was gone? Nope.
Instead, 71 seconds later, the Blue Jackets were back in the lead.
Johnny Boychuk was the first man in on a long dump into the Blue Jackets zone, but he lost a wheel while bracing for position with Werenski and crashed into the boards hard. The Blue Jackets rushed the other way and the Islanders never adjusted, creating a 3-on-1 against Nick Leddy. Cam Atkinson set up Seth Jones for a prime chance, which he converted inside the post to Greiss’ left.
Still, they’re in the game, right?
Bailey set up Tavares on the doorstep with a great fake shot, but Sergei Bobrovsky pushed across to rob Tavares with a glove save to keep the score 4-3. Then Nick Foligno was allowed to walk in across the slot and score to make it 5-3. That was again against the Pulock-Pelech combo, with a tortured mix of Alan Quine, Joshua Ho-Sang and Jason Chimera up front. It came just three minutes after Jones’ goal and four minutes after the Islanders had erased the 3-0 deficit.
Third Period: Repeat
But there was still game to go, and the Islanders were pushing hard to reclaim their stake.
Bobrovsky robbed Tavares two more times before Bailey completed his hat trick off a faceoff four seconds into a power play, putting the Isles back within a goal with just under 13 minutes to play.
Jenner took his second tripping penalty of the night — Mathew Barzal drawing yet another one — but the Isles wasted that power play with maddening indecision.
They pulled the goalie for a sixth attacker with 90 seconds left, and kept some control. The Blue Jackets were aggressive and wore down the attacking six, eventually creating the space for an empty netter with one second left.
Doug Weight: “I’ll be frank. We’ve got some guys who are passengers right now. It’s just not good,”— Mark Herrmann (@markpherrmann) December 15, 2017
So, it’s been a rough December so far. They are 3-5-1, with one of those three wins via shootout. Outside of Monday’s win over the Capitals, every game over the last two weeks has been marked by troubling stretches and questionable goaltending.
Now come the Kings visiting on Saturday, fresh off a recent nine-game win streak.