It’s not an anomaly, nor is it a coincidence. The New York Islanders clearly have an issue holding on to leads and closing out games in the third period.
It happened yet again late Wednesday night in Vancouver when they squandered leads of 2-0 and 3-1 to fall 4-3 in overtime against the Canucks — their sixth loss in a row.
The numbers are as miserable as a skid of this length sounds. Six games might not seem much, but that’s 7.3% of an NHL season’s schedule and at the 15th game mark — which is 18.2% of the 2023-24 campaign already gone — New York sits two points out of last place in the Metropolitan Division entering Thursday night’s second leg of its back-to-back where they visit the Seattle Kraken in the penultimate game of a four-game west-coast road trip.
The Islanders have been outscored 25-12 during the six-game slide, but the third periods and special teams have often provided the fatal blows.
Head coach Lane Lambert has seen his penalty kill converting at a paltry 55% rate (11-for-20) during this stretch. Seven of those infractions have come while they’ve led, including two penalties on the same play by Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Noah Dobson at the 6:45 mark of the third period on Wednesday night with the Islanders leading 3-2. The Canucks 1:45 later to ultimately send it to overtime.
Late-game penalties have run rampant during the Islanders’ snide as 11 of the 20 have come in the final 20 minutes. The opposition has scored on five of those (45.5%).
“I didn’t like our penalty killing. I thought we were too passive,” head coach Lane Lambert said after Wednesday’s loss (h/t Islanders official site). “I think when you’re getting scored on, you start to sit back. That’s what happened a little bit with that. You can’t take two penalties on the same play. It can’t happen.”
It’s been a key factor as to why the Islanders have been non-competitive late in games. In their last six games, they’ve been outscored 14-1 in third periods and overtime while on the season, they have a minus-16 differential in those scenarios. They’ve yet to win a game that has gone into overtime this season (0-4).
“Missed assignments. That’s it,” Lambert said of his team’s inability to win in the extra session. “There’s nothing else you can say. It’s 3-on-3, it’s man-on-man. If you miss your assignment, it ends up in the back of your net.”
Fifteen games is already a considerable amount of time for the Islanders to have not been able to figure out what has hampered their late-game breakdowns. The longer this plagues them, the quicker their hopes for a playoff berth swirl down the drain.