If the Islanders want to climb out of this hole near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, they’ll have to find a way to beat good teams.
Their trend of bad showings against teams over .500 this season continued on Thursday when they fell to the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 at UBS Arena despite a frantic Islanders comeback that saw a combined three goals scored in the final 2:04 seconds of play.
Trailing 2-0 in the final minutes, Mathew Barzal and Casey Cizikas’ goals weren’t enough to tie things up after the Islanders yielded an empty-net goal to Adrian Kempe in between.
Now with 20 games against such opponents, the Islanders’ record against above-.500 teams sits at 4-13-3 this season while getting outscored 63-33.
Los Angeles used New York as a springboard to get back to winning ways after losing four of their previous five while providing a triumphant backdrop for veteran defenseman Drew Doughty, who was celebrating his 1,000th-career game on Thursday night.
The Islanders were thoroughly dominated in a first period that saw them outshot 9-3 — though defenseman Adam Pelech did ring an odd-man-rush wrister off the crossbar. While the longevity of Doughty was being celebrated, 2020 No. 2 overall pick Quinton Byfield added to Los Angeles pomp when he ripped a wrister between the dots over the glove of Semyon Varlamov for his first-career NHL goal.
“They were sitting back, making it tough to get through the neutral zone,” Cizikas said. “I thought they were really good in breaking out the puck and making those small-area plays.”
The second period provided a slight uptick of attacking malice from the Islanders, but they still couldn’t get through Cal Petersen. Five minutes into the frame, Noah Dobson sent a slap pass to a wide-open Oliver Wahlstrom at the left post with a gaping net, but the forward simply missed the puck.
Robin Salo hit the crossbar later in the period before a final-minute chance that saw Kings defenseman Matt Roy turn the puck over from behind his net right to Anders Lee. But the Islanders captain couldn’t quite stuff it home with 27 seconds to go.
They were made to pay for it just seconds later when Andreas Athanasiou sent a wrister from a near-impossible angle along the left boards over an unsuspecting Varlamov to make put the Kings up two with 5.1 seconds remaining.
“Our margin in a one-goal game is the difference between winning and losing,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “I’m sure Varly would like to have one back at the end of the period… Those are a little bit deflating because you were going in after a period down one puck and now you’re down two pucks.”
Chances for Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anthony Beauvillier dotted early proceedings in the third period, but the Islanders didn’t break through until there was 2:04 to go — just moments after Varlamov was pulled — when Barzal beat Petersen from a tough angle in the left face-off circle.
But after a turnover by the Islanders’ goal scorer at the Kings’ blue line — and a spill from the last man back in Brock Nelson — Kempe put Los Angeles back up two with an empty-net goal from just inside center ice with 36 seconds to go.
It proved even more costly when Cizikas drew the Islanders back within one just 17 seconds later.
Too little, too late.