The New York Islanders’ nine-game winning streak came to an end Tuesday night with a resounding thud in a 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals; punctuated by ill-timed penalties that resulted in two of those goals.
Consider it a wake-up call, one that head coach Barry Trotz delivered during the game. Most notably, it came down on star first-line center Mathew Barzal, whose cross-check on Nick Jensen resulted in Washington making it a 2-0 game with 4:36 remaining in the second period behind Alex Ovechkin’s 718th career goal.
Barzal was subsequently benched for the first 8:14 of the third period, confirming that Trotz was more concerned about maintaining composure and culture to sustain long-term success rather than the two points that night.
“Absolutely [it was a message],” Trotz said.
While he leads the Islanders with 24 points this season, Barzal also leads them with 32 penalty minutes.
“It should be a Matt Martin or a Casey Cizikas [fourth liners] or someone like that,” Trotz said. ” He shouldn’t be leading our team in penalty minutes. I didn’t like the penalty and I didn’t like the shift after that. The response had to be dynamite… It absolutely was a message. He has to fight through all that stuff.”
And now the Islanders have to fight through the most treacherous part of their schedule.
While New York’s winning streak was the longest in the NHL this season, seven of those games came against the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils — the two bottom teams in the Eastern Division.
Granted, there were wins against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins during that stretch — all during a schedule that featured nine home games in 10 outings — Tuesday night in the nation’s capital ushers in a much more difficult schedule for the second half of this 56-game NHL season.
The Islanders’ next 21 games will against teams that made the playoffs last season, including four against the Bruins (all in Boston), five more against the Capitals, five high-leverage rivalry games against the Rangers, and six against the Philadelphia Flyers; three of them coming in succession beginning on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.
A daunting slate, certainly, but it doesn’t change the tune the Islanders have been singing for a majority of the last three seasons now that their winning streak is over.
“We’re weren’t really going to change our mentality through this streak,” veteran forward Josh Bailey said. “We weren’t focusing on it, we weren’t talking about it. We were just trying to get better and keep carrying that momentum through. We’ll get ready for the next one and get ready for that one and go from there.”