Tonight, the New York Islanders had the opportunity to get into a playoff spot with a win against a division rival in the New Jersey Devils. They failed to do so, finding themselves on the back heel early on with sloppy defensive play.
It seems like every time there’s an opportunity to finally leapfrog the many teams standing in the Isles’ way they come up short with half-hearted efforts. The “Rangers hangover” seemed present yet again, at a time where keeping in this playoff race means getting hot and staying hot. The Devils were a beatable opponent, but by the time the Isles were ready to play like a team looking to win this game, it was too little, too late.
First Period: Breakaways abound
Early in the first, the subject of much hypothetical trade talk amongst Isles fans, Taylor Hall, made his presence known as he narrowly missed scoring twice off breakaways. Thomas Greiss helped keep the Islanders in the game as they struggled defensively, and Devante Smith-Pelly made them pay for giving up yet another breakaway, putting New Jersey up 1-0.
The Islanders had the opportunity to tie the game, when John Tavares earned a penalty shot after being hooked while driving to the net. However, Cory Schneider stopped Tavares’ attempt, and the Devils’ lead remained.
Along the way in the first, the Islanders had a couple of key players head to the locker room, as Johnny Boychuk was missing from the bench for the majority of the first, and Anders Lee headed off shortly after taking an elbow to the head.
The Islanders were lucky to finish the first down only a goal, after P.A. Parenteau’s chance on the power play hit the crossbar.
Second period: Power(less) plays
While Lee and Boychuk returned for the second, the Islanders continued to struggle, as Greiss again made some saved on Devils’ attempts. The game also started to get a little more physical, as Miles Wood and Scott Mayfield dropped the gloves after Wood hit Brock Nelson by the bench area. Both received matching fighting majors, so the teams remained at even strength.
Taylor Hall took a roughing minor shortly after, but the Isles were woeful on the power play, and gave up a shorthanded goal, scored by Travis Zajac to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. Steven Santini took a penalty later on in the second, and again the Islanders were unable to get back in the game with the man advantage.
Third period: Comeback?
Though the third period started poorly, with Anders Lee taking a penalty that led to Devils rookie Pavel Zacha converting on the power play to give the Devils a three-goal cushion, the Islanders were able to put together a strong effort to get back into the game.
Andrew Ladd scored the Isles’ first of the night, after some traffic in front of the net left Schneider out of position. The Devils challenged for goaltender inference, but a quick review determined that the goal was good.
Following that, Anthony Beauvillier got back on the scoresheet after chasing his own rebound and putting it past Schneider. While the Islanders had looked out of the game before, now it looked like the momentum was shifting their way. Adam Henrique took a late penalty, with about three minutes remaining in the period, and the Islanders were given a prime opportunity to tie the game and at least ensure one point.
However, the Isles started with their second power play unit, one that has struggled greatly all season. Doug Weight chose not to call a timeout, presumably saving the top unit for when he pulled Thomas Greiss, but the decision looks poor, especially with players like Alan Quine and Dennis Seidenberg getting a minute of power play time in an extremely important one-goal game. Ultimately, the Islanders couldn’t find the tying goal, and fell 3-2 in regulation.
Tomorrow, the New York Islanders will play the New Jersey Devils again, but this time at the Barclays Center. While this game was pretty much a must-win, tomorrow’s game is an absolute must-win to keep the playoffs in reach. With Toronto and Florida all within range of a spot, getting as many points as possible, especially with a road trip looming, is key.