The five-city, nine-day western swing that starts Thursday is as much an opportunity as a challenge for the Islanders. It is a chance for bonding and building chemistry. Still, there is no place like home, which is what made them so hopeful Wednesday night. And left them so disappointed.
Having rallied from a two-goal deficit in the second period with a lot of spirit -- sparked by the deficit and a major penalty from Nikolay Kulemin that put them in a hole -- they spoiled their own send-off with a 4-3 loss at the Coliseum to the Jets.
Andrew Ladd's second goal of the game, off a turnover and a long rebound from Jaroslav Halak's pad at 3:31 of the third, provided the difference. It sent the Islanders on the road -- seven of the next eight games -- with a solid 6-3-0 record, but a bit of a sour taste.
"I didn't get the puck to the blue line and I lost my guy there," Kyle Okposo said of the play in Winnipeg's half of the ice, which led to the decisive move to the Islanders' end. "That was the difference in the game. That can't happen."
Okposo did not get an argument from his coach. "The turnover on the fourth goal," Jack Capuano said, summing up the game that left the Islanders 3-2-0 at Nassau Coliseum. "That's probably the most disappointing thing."
Capuano did not want to talk about the goaltending situation other than to say that Halak remains the No. 1. It was the first time in a week that Halak started. He had been pulled after two periods in an unkempt loss to the Maple Leafs last Tuesday and had not been in net since. Chad Johnson won in Boston two days later, earning a start against the Stars at the Coliseum on Saturday. The Islanders won both games.
Halak was the first and most significant addition in the Islanders' productive offseason. Yet, he allowed the third goal on a long shot and generally was not sharp. "Obviously, it wasn't my best game. I've got to do better. That's the bottom line," he said.
With Brock Nelson's power-play goal 1:16 into the game, the Islanders could not have drawn up a better start.
But the early part of the second period couldn't have been sketched any worse for them. Kulemin was given a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding Mark Stuart (who was able to remain in the game). The Jets scored twice on that power play, on a short poke-in by Ladd and an even shorter jam shot by Paul Postma. "That was unfortunate. They got all the momentum," Halak said.
The Islanders' ire grew after a potential power play was negated by a penalty to Matt Martin for embellishment. Jacob Trouba scored on a long blast during the four-on-four, at 11:42, to make it 3-1.
Visibly fired up, the Islanders tied it on a power-play goal by John Tavares at 14:28 of the second, and an even-strength rush by Mikhail Grabovski at 16:01.
But Tavares said the Islanders lacked "grit" in the third. Capuano said they lacked poise.
"When you don't manage the puck well, you're not going to have success. We didn't deserve to win," the coach said. "It's going to be a long road trip if we don't figure it out quick."