All good things come to an end.
It’s a little dramatic but I’m purposely exaggerating what’s been going on with the Islanders since the second period of last Saturday’s home matinee against the St. Louis Blues. By the end of the first period, the Islanders were up 3-0 and it appeared their November dominance was not going to be halted in December. I mean, the Blues are one of the best teams in a western conference that looks unbeatable right now. But that’s exactly it-
the Islanders became complacent and the final 40 minutes was all Blues, all the time in a 6-4 loss.
The Islanders had nobody to blame but themselves. They allowed three power-play goals, something that has been a constant. It’s been overlooked because the Islanders were playing .750 hockey through an entire month of the season, and Jaroslav Halak won 11 consecutive games. That game against the Blues had to make you sit back and think teams were going to exploit the leagues worst penalty kill even further. Because, the Blues did something other teams weren’t. That was simply cycling the puck around the net as the Islanders crash the crease and throwing it up to the point man to deliver a slap shot that Halak has no chance of seeing.
We’ve seen this same cycle since that game. When up 3-0 on the Wild, Kyle Okposo took a retaliation penalty when the Wild took exception to a Matt Martin hit that left Keith Ballard in a scary situation as he was sent to the hospital. Jason Pominville scored an easy power-play goal and the Wild were ignited. The Islanders had just one shot the entire second period, but they scored on it and went into the intermission up 4-1. The Islanders defense collapsed yet again, allowing four third-period goals, and they were all ugly. Keep in mind, backup goaltender Chad Johnson, who has been awful this season was given the last-second start because of a Halak injury before the game.
Now, they return from a re-match against the Blues in St. Louis. The Islanders didn’t blow any leads, but they didn’t have any leads. They went down 2-0 in the first, tied it in the second, but were suffocated in the third by a much better team.
The Blues scored four goals, one being another in power-play form. That’s been the theme over this past week as the Islanders penalty-kill is at just 71 percent, 3.9 percent away from the worst percentage in penalty-killing history.
The Islanders were never going to play .750 hockey all season. No goalie was going to pass an all-time legend in Billy Smith for most consecutive wins as an Islanders goalie and stay that dominant all season. All of the sudden, Halak has given up 11 goals in two games after allowing 14 goals over his previous 11 starts.
The frustration lies in the fact that this team, without Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Casey Cizikas, and Josh Bailey were still playing up to those high standards early in each game. The problem was, the defense got over-whelmed with the lead and now we’re seeing lines which are in need of a shakeup Brock Nelson to the first line, anyone? How about re-uniting Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin? Also, let’s do something about a power-play that is just three for their last 13.
Injuries are never an excuse in the NHL, but although this nice long hot-streak that has Islanders comfortably sitting right behind the Penguins and above everyone else in the Metropolitan division, they need to right the ship. Or at least show signs that they have guys who can step up and fill in when need be. Brian Strait will never be that guy but Jack Capuano needs to trust the fact that his young defensemen (See Griffin Reinhart and Matt Donovan) are better suited than a veteran who has been on the ice for 12 of the last 16 goals.
The point is, the team is hurting and it’s not the end of the world that they’ve lost three in a row. Playing the Chicago Blackhawks (20-8-0) tonight puts the team at a disadvantage for snapping the streak, but yesterday they had their first practice with everyone skating. They could be healthy as early as tonight, and boy do they need it. But, if they play anything like this when they’re healthy, then it’s time to panic.
Until then, they’ve positioned themselves well-enough to go through a funk or two along the way.