Islanders slow starts providing caveat to early-season success

Ilya Sorokin Islanders
New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin, right, reacts as the Arizona Coyotes celebrate a goal by Travis Boyd during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 10. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Islanders are fluent in coming from behind to pull out victories from trailing situations this season. 

Four of their last eight games have featured wins in which they’ve overturned third-period deficits. Last week they overturned a pair of 3-1 third-period deficits in succession against the Calgary Flames and New York Rangers. On Saturday night at UBS Arena, they erased three separate one-goal deficits on their way to an overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It’s becoming commonplace for the Islanders, who are 10-6-0 through their first 16 games of the season, sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division as they embark on a four-game road trip beginning Monday night in Ottawa against the Senators. 

That’s all well and good, but the Islanders are settling into an unsettling trend of starting slow and playing from behind. They’ve allowed the first goal in 11 of their first 16 games of the season.

“I think it’s something that we need to find a way to fix,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said after the team’s morning skate on Sunday. “Obviously, it’s good to know that we have the belief in here and we’re never out of a game and we always have a chance and we’ll find a way. But you want to score first, you want to play with the lead, and I think we have to find a way to be a little sharper earlier in games.”

Ryan Pulock Islanders
New York Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock (6) celebrates with the bench after scoring.

The Islanders are being outscored 27-25 in the first and second periods this season as opposed to the third period in which they are doing the outscoring 26-14. When they do score first, they’re 5-0 this season — suggesting a pretty clear formula for winning.

Yet head coach Lane Lambert said on Sunday that his team has yet to find the core issue of what is causing these slow starts.

“It’s definitely a trend that we don’t want to have and when we score first, we’re 5-0,” Lambert said. “So getting the first goal would be helpful.”

“It’s just kind of the way the chips are falling right now,” veteran forward Josh Bailey said. “Certainly, longevity-wise, it’s not something you want to flirt with but when we’re in those situations, we feel confident. We have to keep pushing.”

Pulock, however, has an idea — and it has something to do with what’s going on between the ears rather than on the ice.

“I think when we have a little bit of desperation and we’re down, we find another level,” Pulock said. “I think maybe it’s a bit of a mindset of getting to that level sooner and playing that way the whole night.”

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