Instead of stringing hopes along as they make up lost games in hand, the New York Islanders are doing a good job of eliminating all hope as their season finally enters the second half.
They put an emphatic point on that trend by losing their third in a row, 6-3 to the Buffalo Sabres, in a game where they erased one-goal leads three times, only to cough up another all night long. There was some opportunistic offense and determination to equalize, but that was always undermined by often puzzling defensive lapses.
That closes a four-game road trip they started with hopes of getting that “team bonding” boost, but ended with a 1-3 and shortcomings that have plagued them all season.
Kyle Palmieri (for Ross Johnston) and Sebastian Aho (for Andy Greene) both returned after long absences and figured in the scoring. But lineup changes and line mixes have made no difference: This isn’t the Isles year, and this roster is not getting it done.
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The Sabres came out ready to play, and the Isles were on their back foot the first few shifts of the game. Though they finally settled into the game, the Sabres struck first after some sustained zone time when Kyle Okposo was allowed to sneak behind the net and find wide-open space for a redirection. That made it 1-0 at 10:53.
The Islanders woke up and got it back quickly, however, with a really nice counterattack where Anthony Beauvillier and Kyle Palmieri pounced on an opportunity. It started with a great poke from behind by Brock Nelson to force a turnover in the Isles zone. Sebastian Aho gained possession and moved it quickly. Beauvillier saw an opening for a foot race down the left wing boards and, in what may be a shock to seasonlong observers, Palmieri kept up with him and outraced his man to tap in Beauvillier’s low-slot cross.
New game, and fresh start for the second period.
The Isles started nicely, with the fourth line creating some havoc, forcing a turnover, and drawing a penalty as Casey Cizikas crashed the net. Mark Jankowski lifted Cizikas’ stick to diffuse the threat but also (inadvertently...probably) slewfooted Cizikas as he made his turn.
The opening of the power play was slow, but then the Isles managed some pressure that led to a Noah Dobson shot off the post. However, when things went the other way, things went south...
The Sabres nearly did the Isles a favor when Dylan Cozens and Tage Thompson collided while providing annoying pressure on the penalty kill. Instead, the Islanders fumbled that gift, and allowed Thompson to have his way around the offensive zone.
Shorthanded goals happen when the power play team is lulled into assuming that surely the penalty killers won’t make that extra effort and extra stride when they’re a man down, and that’s exactly what happened here. Every Islander on the ice took their foot off the gas as Cozens and Thompson continued to work. So when Thompson completed his great board work with a pass to Cozens for a one-timer, each Islander watched as Sorokin made the save.
But Thompson did not stop, and instead rushed the net to put in the rebound and make it 2-1 just 1:36 into the period.
That was deflating, but the Isles did not sag. Mathew Barzal in particular came to life, and his orbit around the offensive zone eventually found Zdeno Chara, who put a shot toward net, where Anders Lee battled to tie it at 7:11.
Penalty trouble came for the Isles late in the period, first from trying too hard, then from being spent. Zach Parise took the first one, a soft hooking call at the end of a sequence where the Isles had several hacks at the net. That led to a horrifying Sabres power play, but the Isles somehow survived...
...only to go right back into the box. Chara, at the end of a long shift, took the no-doubt tripping call. This time the Isles seemed determined not to let the Sabres have the same control, but Fortune did not care.
With time winding down, Peyton Krebs had the puck high in the zone, sent a last-chance volley toward the net, and Alex Tuch put a great redirect past Sorokin. That gave the Sabres a 3-2 lead with 0.6 seconds left on the clock.
4th time since 1/22 that #Isles have allowed a goal in last minute - 3rd time in that span it has come in last six seconds:— Eric Hornick (@ehornick) February 16, 2022
Pierre Engvall (TOR) 1/22 19:59 (1st pd)
Andreas Athanasiou (LA) 1/27 19:54 (2nd pd)
Alex Tuch tonight 19:59 (2nd pd) #NHL #NHLStats
After the horn, Barry Trotz had a pretty peeved discussion with the linesmen, and it wasn’t clear whether that was because there was a close but blocked-from-view offside on the zone entry, or if he had quibble with a Sabres change on the sequence leading to Chara’s penalty.
Either way, the Islanders shot themselves in the foot with two late penalties, had chances to clear, and suffered for it.
Third Period: Rinse, repeat, run out of time
Led by Captain Lee, the Isles weren’t about to quit, but their repeated defensive coverage lapses ultimately proved fatal.
Still, Palmieri — who took a scary collision on the end boards that at one point made it look like he’d be out — tied things up once more at 9:56 on a cheeky play. A dump off the end boards by Lee went to Palmieri at the goal line, and he lifted a shot from in tight, off the back of Dustin Tokarski’s mask and in.
For the third time, it was a new game. And for the third time, the Isles blew it.
With 2:55 left, Chara directed Scott Mayfield to take the man on the puck side to the left wing side of the Isles net...which left Victor Olofsson alone to receive the pass on the right wing side, where he slipped it short side before Sorokin could get all the way over.
The Isles pulled Sorokin for a sixth attacker with two minutes left and gave up two empty-net goals.
With a sparse Sabres crowd’s claps and hoorays audible, somehow that all felt a fitting exclamation point for the evening.
The Islanders come home for games against Boston on Thursday and Monteral on Sunday afternoon. Should be fun.