ELMONT, N.Y. — The unmistakeable and puzzling sounds of a faceless, nameless, and perhaps intoxicated suite member at UBS Arena singing opera just outside the Islanders’ locker room provided a bewildering soundtrack as defenseman Ryan Pulock attempted to parse through what went wrong for his side in the third period of Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
Opera and hockey go together as well as a bakery and a pile of sweaty socks choking out the scent of freshly made bread on a Sunday morning, but this one rambunxious fan has provided an exception at least for one day as the Islanders find themselves repeating (they’re called ritornellos in opera) the same concerning verse within the 82-act composition that is the 2023-24 season.
The first and second scenes of each act have generally gone on without a hitch. The Islanders are outscoring their opponents 21-15 in the first two periods of games this season, including an 11-4 advantage in first periods.
It built them a 3-0 lead early in the third period against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 30, a 3-1 advantage heading into the third against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, and on Tuesday night, they were knotted up at two apiece with the Wild.
But the Islanders gave up three goals in 3:58 in the third period to the Red Wings before losing in overtime. They gave up two goals in 3:07 in the third period to the Hurricanes before losing in overtime. They gave up two goals in 42 seconds in the third period on Tuesday night in a 4-2 loss to the Wild.
In fact, the Islanders have held leads in each of their eight home games this season and out of a possible 16 points, came away with just nine.
“We’re sticking with our game plan. We’re not changing anything,” Pulock said. “We just have to find another step in the third and in big moments in the game. Right now, they’re hurting us and that’s the first step we have to clean up here.”
This isn’t Groucho Marx in A Night at the Opera. There is no unconfined joy or dancing in the streets when it comes to crunch time on Long Island — except maybe for that random voice within the UBS Arena suites. Instead, there’s a minus-8 goal differential in the third period and overtime and an overarching tendency to yield in bunches — a far cry from a team that just a few seasons ago with much of the same roster made multi-goal leads a lock for two points every night.
“I think at times we are [playing to our identity] and then I think at times, we get away from it,” head coach Lane Lambert said. “The consistency of the identity has not been there for me. Not yet.
“When you spend time in your zone, you spend less time in the offensive zone therefore, the inconsistencies come in.”
Their downfalls have come in different forms, but Tuesday night saw two penalties committed by Casey Cizikas and Noah Dobson just 3:04 apart from each other early in the third. Kirill Kaprizov beat Semyon Varlamov while Dobson sat in the box.
“It’s certainly something we have to address,” Lambert said. “Everybody has to look in the mirror. We stick together. We win as a team, we lose as a team, and we move forward as a team. We just have to be better with our discipline.”
And so the ritornello was sparked, but this time into chaos — or what UBS Arena’s opera star might call imbroglio.
Joel Eriksson-Ek was left alone to put the Wild up two just 42 seconds later and then proceeded to give up a pair of Grade-A chances to Minnesota shortly after that goaltender Semyon Varlamov managed to keep out.
“The guys just got a little loose,” Dobson said of the theme, or leitmotif, of his side’s issues. “We were taking chances down two and we gave them a couple rushes. We just have to manage it better. We’ve had two really good periods th least couple games and we just have to find ways to manage it in the third and get the job done…
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot a bit in the third period.”
It has become a tradition at the opera for the protagonist to die. With the self-inflicted wounds the Islanders are committing, they’re certainly tempting the fates who ultimately control the curtain of their season with the points they’re leaving on the table, even if it is just 11 games in.
“We just have to stick to the program,” Lambert said. “Whether the score is 3-2 or 4-2, we have to stick to the program and not come out of structure and start giving up 2-on-1’s. We just have to be better.”