TEMPE, Ariz. — Are the Islanders in trouble?
After another loss — their second of the season to the Coyotes and this one in front of a pro-Islanders crowd at Mullett Arena after two days off by the score of 5-4 — the question has to be asked. The Islanders have now dropped four of their past five and six of their past eight dating back to Nov. 29, and it’s not about to get any easier.
“We clearly aren’t getting the results we need,” coach Lane Lambert said. “So there’s always concern.”
It looked as though Noah Dobson’s game-tying goal at 17:45 of the second period had recovered enough momentum to help the Islanders through the third — as though the worst of the night had passed the Islanders by.
So much for that.
Within the first 2:08 of the final period, the Coyotes had killed off the last 1:22 of a penalty that carried over from the end of the second and taken a 4-3 lead after Travis Boyd cleaned up his own rebound.
The Islanders would get two more chances on the power play before the game ended and they would score on neither — finishing the night an abysmal 0-for-5 at five-on-four. After the Islanders’ fifth swing and miss on the man advantage, the Coyotes quickly stepped on their throats. Clayton Keller provided the dagger, with a shot that caromed off Alexander Romanov and into the net at 14:39 of the period.
Anthony Beauvillier got the Islanders within one with 1:39 to go, but a late scramble ultimately left them a goal short.
“I thought we got outworked for a portion of that game,” Lambert said, “and it’s unacceptable.”
The eventful third followed a second period in which the Islanders played disastrously until Dobson’s goal, as they relinquished the lead and played completely on their back foot.
First, it was Keller whose wrist shot beat Ilya Sorokin through a screen at 8:55, then it was a Nick Bjugstad one-timer from the left circle at 9:09. The Islanders couldn’t get out of their own zone, took three penalties in the period and seemed to have lost their defensive zone structure.
Even when Dobson tied the game at 3-3, it turned out not to be enough to weather that storm.
“Just took our foot off the gas,” Kyle Palmieri said. “And they had those two quick ones, I don’t know. Just kinda never really got our footing. There was some pockets of good things, but a lot of bad things.”
The Islanders will get no reprieve, as they’ll face a rested Golden Knights team in Las Vegas on Saturday before seeing the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche in Denver on Monday, followed by a red-hot Rangers side at the Garden on Thursday. During their recent stretch, the Islanders have failed to pick up what should have been gimme points against the Flyers, Predators, Blues and now the Coyotes, blowing a 2-0 lead in the process.
“Losing six of eight, we gotta turn that around,” Zach Parise said, though he admitted he couldn’t put his finger on just why things have gone so poorly of late.
The resiliency that defined the first two months of the season for the Islanders has only rarely shown up, and was plainly missing on Friday. The ceiling is still high — we saw it when the Islanders beat the Devils last week and earned a tough point in Boston on Tuesday. But that all means nothing if they can’t beat the teams they should beat, and they’ve shown a tendency to play down to their competition.
There’s still a lot of time left in the season, but Friday was Game 31. It’s not early anymore, and the Islanders have wasted what was once a solid lead in the standings over the Rangers, Penguins and Capitals. The goaltender whose play helped give them that lead, Sorokin, lost his fifth game in a row on Friday, letting by five of 29 shots.
“I don’t think that was his best game,” Lambert said. “There’s moments in a season when things will happen like that. He’ll bounce back.”
They’ll wake up on Saturday behind the Rangers and Penguins in the standings, and hanging on to a one-point lead over the Caps.
It just might be time to worry.
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