The red flags are officially flying from Nassau Coliseum to Barclays Center.
The Islanders’ Tuesday-night 6-2 beatdown at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens was as uninspiring of a reply the team could have mustered after being taken care of 4-0 by the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
“We need to raise our battle level a little bit,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “We have to put more skin in the game, we don’t have enough skin in the game, you can’t win this time of year like that.”
It was their fourth-consecutive loss and their eighth in 10 games as they’ve been nothing short of mediocre since the end of their franchise-record 17-game point streak — which seems like nothing more than a fluke, now.
The Islanders are 19-19-6 since Nov. 25, but still hold the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference thanks in part to that red-hot run of form earlier this season.
At their current pace, however, postseason play would almost be miraculous given the severity of the team’s struggles, especially on offense.
Despite trading for J.G. Pageau at the deadline, the Islanders are averaging just 1.7 goals per game including three shutouts and it’s starting to take its toll on the team.
“I don’t know if we’re fragile, but we’re squeezing a bit. Guys are trying, but the puck is a grenade on their stick,” Trotz said. “The guys aren’t trying to be bad. That’s the human spirit, they were trying to pull it together. What happens is when you’re not playing well and you know it… everybody tries to take more on and what happens is that you get pulled apart a little bit.”
Too often the Islanders have lacked venom in its attack. Players are often hesitant to shoot the puck and their simplified dump-and-chase style of play — which is a necessity because the team lacks forwards that can successfully enter the offensive zone — has done little to create consistent chances.
“There’s not [enough north, south to our game]. We have some guys that want to play a certain way… teams that are successful… there’s not a lot of east, west in their game,” Trotz said. “You have to go earn it, you have to win a battle, win a puck. That’ll create some offense for you.”
Their inability to put the puck in the back of the net has been further exposed since the injury to top defenseman Adam Pelech, whose season-ending lower-body injury has seen the team’s blue line play like a shell of its former, resolute self.
In their first 21 games of the season, the Islanders had the league’s top defense, allowing an average of 2.4 goals per game.
Since then, they’re averaging nearly three goals per night. That’s not necessarily an enormous number, but when a team isn’t scoring like the Islanders currently are, that’s quite a mountain to climb each night. Especially when the motor of the team’s identity line, Casey Cizikas, is making his way back from a lengthy injury absence.
“It is [perplexing]. But we’re a little bit of a different team because of our injury situation,” Trotz said. “Getting that identity is hard when you don’t have those guys.”
Trotz admitted that changes are coming to the Islanders’ lineup as Andrew Ladd and Ross Johnston are on the cusp of seeing minutes, but he did not disclose who would sit.
“It’s trench warfare this time of year because no one is going to give you any space,” Trotz said. “So you have to play the game that’s presented to you and some guys refuse to do that.”
They will be back in action Thursday night in Ottawa against the Senators where every point is a must-have with 17 games left and five teams within six points of the Islanders’ current standing.