Islanders veteran winger Josh Bailey stood wide-open at Washington Capitals goalie’s Vittek Vanicek’s left post on the power play when he received a pin-point, tape-to-tape, cross-ice pass from Mathew Barzal.
The Islanders were trailing 1-0 in the second period, the net was gaping, Vanicek was on his opposite post trying to slide over, but Bailey didn’t shoot. Instead, he tied to pass it once more toward the front of the net.
It was blocked and just like that, the Islanders’ best chance of Saturday afternoon’s eventual 2-0 loss was gone.
— 𝐈𝐬𝐥𝐞𝐬 𝐅𝐢𝐱 (@IslesFix) January 15, 2022
The result was the Islanders’ first regulation loss in five games, dating back to Dec. 14, as their schedule finally picks up. Saturday’s game was the team’s second in three days after playing twice between Dec. 20 and Jan. 12.
“I didn’t think we made a lot of plays,” associate head coach Lane Lambert — filling in for Barry Trotz (COVID) — said. “We didn’t handle the puck the way we could, should, and probably would.
“It felt like a game where we had a layoff. I was expecting more of a lack of execution last game than this game. We knew the magnitude of this game and we didn’t get it.”
Every game is vital for an Islanders team that sits in dead-last in the Metropolitan and 23 points out of third place in the division, which is the final playoff spot. Considering a sparse schedule that began with a 13-game road trip before COVID surged through the league, the Islanders have played at least seven fewer games than five of the other seven teams in the division.
“We sit up here and talk about being in a hole that we have to dig ourselves out,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “It’s tough. We have to get those points. We have to start racking up wins.”
In order to do so, there needs to be more of an aggressive, killer instinct on the offensive side of the ice. In their two games since returning from a 12-day layoff, the Islanders have been outshot 68-48.
“We have to find a way to get the puck to the net,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “Those opportunities don’t come often… we have to find a way to bear down and get something greasy.
“We have to get into the interior… Quick and simple and find a way to get it in.”
The Islanders’ Fenwick rating (FF), which measures how much a team is controlling the puck (more than 50% means they’re controlling more of the puck), is 41.9% — including a 39.7% FF against the Capitals on Saturday that ranked third-lowest this season. It was a clear indication of just how poor their play was, especially when trying to exit their own zone and establish possession in the neutral zone.
“We have to better with the puck overall,” forward Casey Cizikas lamented. “Just make smarter plays.”
They’ll have an opportunity to get back on track Monday night against another divisional opponent in the Philadelphia Flyers that have lost seven straight games.