The script on Saturday night was what had been its usual self for most of the last five years. The Islanders were being outshot and out-chanced but through plus goaltending and timely defensive play, kept the Carolina Hurricanes at bay while building a 3-0 lead 7:46 into the second period following a lethal, fast-paced break finished off by Mathew Barzal.
But then that normal script took what is becoming an increasingly usual turn as Lane Lambert’s men allowed three unanswered goals — one just 32 seconds after Barzal’s tally and a pair in 3:07 inside the final eight minutes of the third period to force overtime. Carolina’s Sebastian Aho then stole the second point in overtime to skim New York’s result to just a single loser’s point.
Goals in bunches have already been identified as an issue over the first 10 games of the 2023-24 season, but Saturday night at UBS Arena provided another worrying example of the Islanders’ inability to hold leads at home this season.
Out of seven home games, they’ve blown multi-goal leads in four of those games. Two of those other three featured New York allowing seven goals (two empty-netters) to the Colorado Avalanche and four power-play goals to the New Jersey Devils.
They were lucky enough to scramble back and pick up regulation victories in the first two instances — the first on opening night against the Buffalo Sabres in which they blew a 2-0 lead, the same margin they squandered on Oct. 26 in a 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators.
But they let a 2-0 lead against the Detroit Red Wings go on Oct. 30, which featured three goals by the visitors in just 3:58 during the third period before losing in overtime. Add Saturday night’s result to the mix, and that’s already two points that have been skimmed off the top for a team that could realistically be 7-2-1 (15 points) instead of 5-2-3 (13 points).
The main issue appears to be turnovers. The Islanders committed 15 giveaways compared to Carolina’s five on Saturday night, which opened the door for a comeback.
“We have to make plays with the puck when we get the puck on our stick,” head coach Lane Lambert said. “We have the puck plenty of times in order to make a play with it and when we turn it over, we just spend time in our zone. Some poise, some composure, some communication, and getting out of our own zone is key.”
Two fewer points seem minimal, but the Metropolitan Division is going to be a tightly contested race to the playoffs this season and the Islanders are likely going to be on the fringe of that fighting for fourth place behind the Hurricanes, New York Rangers, and New Jersey Devils. Every point counts — the same in November as it does in April.
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