This wasn’t the way the Islanders wanted to head into a week-long break.
They scuffled through 40 minutes against a fast, alert Red Wings team and could not rally, dropping a 4-2 decision at Barclays Center on Monday night.
Mikhail Grabovski scored on a breakaway with 4:48 to play to get the Islanders within a goal and they peppered Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek (27 saves) for the equalizer to no avail, with Luke Glendening’s empty-netter sealing the Isles’ first regulation loss in the last five games.
“We had some good moments, but we were sluggish for most of it,” said John Tavares, who set up Brock Nelson’s first-period goal. “It leaves a sour taste in your mouth with the two points we left out there.”
Tavares heads to Nashville on Thursday for the All-Star Game but the rest of the Islanders will scatter on Wednesday for home or warmer climes, ready to relax before a second half run that calls for 35 games in a 69-day span.
Monday’s game called to mind half a dozen others over the first 47 games in which the Islanders’ transition game out of their own end was poor, then a mess for a brief stretch in the second when Detroit seized control of a 1-1 game.
Calvin de Haan stumbled trying to play a puck in the neutral zone, giving the Wings a three on one that Justin Abdelkader finishes off at 13:29 of the second.
Just 71 seconds later, Brian Strait’s middle-ice pass caught all three Isles forwards flat-footed when Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser stepped up to pick it off. Strait blocked DeKeyser’s first shot but the defenseman snapped the second over Jaro Halak’s shoulder.
“It’s disappointing because the last nine periods our ‘D’ were moving the puck well, they were communicating, moving their feet,” coach Jack Capuano said. “Tonight we didn’t execute. That’s why we couldn’t get out of our own end.”
The Isles are far from secure in their playoff position, but they’re in the upper end of the confusing mix of teams in the Eastern Conference vying for the postseason and they have games in hand on nearly all their pursuers.
That doesn’t mean much if they can’t put together consistent performances from one week to the next. Capuano juggled his forward lines and defense pairs after a bad first 10 minutes in which Brad Richards scored on the power play, and the resulting shifts saw Tavares outwork Jonathan Ericsson and feed Nelson for the tying goal in the first.
In the third, the Isles had chances to tie, the best one off Ryan Strome’s stick that Mrazek got a shoulder on with three minutes to go. But turning on the offense after falling behind isn’t the sort of tactic that wins games.
“I think we all agree in here we haven’t played our best but we’re still in a good spot,” Travis Hamonic said. “Hopefully we still have our best in front of us. Once we get back, the playoff hockey really starts then.”