For a practice that looked as hard and meticulous as Monday’s did, one might have thought that the Islanders would have come out with a bit more jump one night later at UBS Arena against the Ottawa Senators.
Instead, the Islanders malaised through the first period against an Ottawa Senators team that ranks seventh out of eight teams in the Atlantic Division — and a push in the latter portions of the game that ultimately resulted in 48 shots launched on goal wasn’t enough in a 3-2 shootout loss, which was their third consecutive defeat and included another less-than-stellar 4-on-3 power-play opportunity in overtime.
All three of those losses (Senators, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens) have come against teams not inhabiting playoff spots.
“We need to be more desperate and be on top of our toes the whole time and not sit back and wait,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. ‘I think we’re getting caught sitting back a little bit. That’s not us. That’s not how we get success.”
The Islanders have been mired in a time of desperation for a couple of weeks now and it doesn’t appear to be getting better. After a stretch in which they lost 10 of 11 games bounced them from a playoff spot, some promising momentum came from a four-game win streak sparked by the acquisition of Bo Horvat that included wins over two of the Pacific Division’s top teams in the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken. That has since disappeared with this latest skid.
Consider it another massive red flag amidst a concerning season. They remain one point out of a playoff spot behind the Washington Capitals, who have played one fewer game. Meanwhile, trailing teams such as the Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres are just five points back of the Islanders’ 61 points but have played five and four fewer games, respectively.
Yet their standing and the noticeable uptick in aggression from head coach Lane Lambert during practice still wasn’t enough to spark a fast Islanders start. They’ve posted their fewest number of goals (41) and shots (537) in the first period.
“I think sometimes there’s ebbs and flows in a game, there’s highs and lows that you have to try to weather,” Pulock said. “Not get too high, not get too low, and there are some points where we’re getting too low and kind of sagging and not playing with enough pressure.”
So, what does it boil down to? Has Lambert lost the locker room or is this roster simply not capable of putting in consistent efforts in a tweaked system compared to the Barry Trotz regime?
Lambert himself has harped on “individual” mistakes multiple times in recent weeks when assessing team struggles. When speaking with amNewYork, Pulock also echoed those sentiments — but what is portrayed to reporters and what is felt in the locker room isn’t always the same.
So the Islanders are now left to re-mount a postseason charge with a schedule that increases drastically in difficulty. Each of their next seven games, beginning on Friday at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, are against teams currently in playoff spots.
Two matchups against the Penguins sandwich a Saturday trip to Boston to face the NHL-best Bruins taking on some of the best teams the Western Conference has to offer in the Winnipeg Jets twice, the Minnesota Wild, and the Los Angeles Kings.
Against teams currently in playoff positions this season, the Islanders have collected 46.3% of possible points available.
“We need to be better but I think sometimes when we are in a tough spot in tough matchups, we’re able to find it,” Pulock said. “So it’ll be important to take these days and prepare and we need everyone mentally to focus on the right things. We’re getting late in the year. Every single point matters… it’s just a matter of being ready and being at our best for a full 60.
“We need to go now. We can’t wait any longer. There’s teams around us winning.”