There have been enough collapses in the third period from the New York Islanders that it’s hard to keep track. At this point, it’s a weekly occurrence as they’ll enter the period with the lead and end up on the losing end one way or another. It’s hard to say which defeat was the worst but the recent one on Dec. 5 to the San Jose Sharks is up there. The worst so far this season in order are give or take these five:
5. Nov. 15 vs Vancouver Canucks – The Islanders led 3-1 in the second period but three penalties allowed the Canucks to score three goals on the power play to win the game in overtime.
4. Oct. 30 vs Detroit Red Wings – A 2-0 lead to start the third period was extinguished with three unanswered goals. The Islanders ended up losing 4-3 in overtime.
3. Nov. 4 vs Carolina Hurricanes – A 3-0 lead in the second period allowed the Hurricanes to score four unanswered to defeat the Islanders 4-3 in overtime.
2. Dec. 5 vs Sharks – Islanders boasted a 4-1 lead with less than 10 minutes to go and against one of the league’s worst teams, they lost 5-4 in overtime.
1. Nov. 28 vs New Jersey Devils – Islanders entered the third with a 4-2 lead and lost 5-4 in regulation.
The bottom line is that the loss, while not the worst or the one that defines the season, still stings and adds to the theme of the season. The Islanders hoped to start their six-game homestand with a win and looked poised to close out the game with a comfortable lead. Yet again, they fell apart to end up losing a game they could have easily won.
Islanders’ Defense Crumbles Again
By no means did goaltender Ilya Sorokin have a great game in the net. He allowed five goals for the fourth time this season but it’s hard to blame any of them on him. From the first goal of the game which came off a turnover in the defensive zone, to the missed assignments in the final minute that allowed the Sharks to tie it, the defense once again let their elite goaltender down. Sorokin made 32 saves and typically, that’s good enough to earn a victory. Not with the Islanders.
The defensive unit allowed the Sharks to control the puck in the offensive zone and create scoring chances. More importantly, they allowed the Sharks skaters to find open shots near the net and slowly crawl back into the game. To be fair, some of the goals came on deflections and tough bounces where the puck ended up in the back of the net. However, the defense failed to both clear the puck out of the defensive zone and play the shooting lanes, allowing shots to find the net in the first place.
It was another game that was a grim reminder for the Islanders that their defense is no longer a strength. It used to be they were able to rely on the Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech duo to lead them and shut opponents down. Likewise, the depth pairings would help secure victories with puck control and gap-sound defense. Injuries to Pelech and Sebastian Aho have played a role in the defensive woes but the unit has fallen off drastically and the failures go beyond two skaters. The blown leads continue to pile up and the defense remains the culprit time and time again, leaving the Islanders on the losing end of games they otherwise would have easily won.
Hertl’s Hat Trick
The Sharks have an offense that entered the Tuesday night game averaging only 1.88 goals per game. Only three skaters had 10 points or more and Tomas Hertl was the only one who surpassed the 15-point mark with four goals and 14 assists. All this to say, the Sharks aren’t a great team and don’t have a great offense but more importantly only have a handful of skaters that can lead them to a victory.
The Islanders knew who was going to give them fits. All they had to do was zero in on Hertl and make sure he didn’t beat them. They let him beat them anyway. Hertl found open looks on the net throughout the game and scored twice in the third period to not only earn a hat trick but tie up the game and allow the Sharks to come away with the victory.
Head coach Lane Lambert has taken a lot of criticism this season for the team’s poor play. Some of it is unwarranted but the inability to stop one skater on a team that doesn’t have a lot of skaters capable of making an impact is a reflection of an unprepared team. The Islanders faced a top-heavy roster in the beginning phases of a rebuild and allowed the few skaters who could beat them to do just that.
Islanders’ Power Play Stepped Up
The postgame feeling was a depressing one as the Islanders lost their 14th game and seventh in overtime. That said, the four-goal performance provided some bright spots, none more notable than the power play which scored twice, accounting for half of the team’s offense.
Brock Nelson scored his team-leading 11th goal of the season and his third power play goal with his wrist shot from the faceoff circle. Noah Dobson found him wide-open and with only the goaltender to beat, it was an easy goal for the Islanders’ top offensive player.
In the third period, one that would head downhill halfway through, the Islanders were given a five-on-three power play. While they could score on the two-man advantage, Pulock fired a shot to the back of the net for his second goal of the season.
Considering how bad the power play was last season, this resurgence has been a pleasant surprise. The Islanders only scored on 15.77 percent of their opportunities and only 35 power play goals in total. Twenty-four games into this season, they already have 15 goals on the man advantage and it’s allowed them to remain in the middle of the Metropolitan Division despite the late-game issues.
Holmstrom’s Strong Showing
Simon Holmstrom has made his mark as a scorer. After a rough rookie season, he’s scored seven goals in 23 games including a crucial goal in the Dec. 2 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers. Against the Sharks he was the best passer on the ice, earning his first two assists of the season.
To start the scoring for the Islanders, Holmstrom sent a centering pass to Julien Gauthier in space, allowing him to fire the puck into the net. With the Islanders on the penalty kill, Holmstrom, who has three shorthanded goals this season, zipped the puck to Mike Reilly who easily sniped the puck to the back of the net. The two assists show how far the young skater has come since last season as he’s become one of the more reliable skaters for the Islanders and a valuable depth forward for a team that needs offense from the bottom six.
Other Takeaways From The Islanders Loss
- Reilly scored a goal and added an assist in the Islanders’ four-goal game. The defensive unit has struggled to open up the offense aside from Dobson and Reilly could add a two-way presence, albeit in a reduced role, that this unit needs.
- Gauthier had a great night. Along with scoring the game’s first goal, the power forward was making plays in all three zones and further solidified his case to remain in the lineup as a third-line skater.
- Bo Horvat had two assists to bring his season totals to seven goals and 13 assists. The expectation was that he would be one of the prominent scorers but he’s also made a significant impact as a playmaker this season.
What’s Next For The Islanders
The six-game homestand continues with the Islanders hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, Dec. 7. The Blue Jackets have an 8-14-5 record and are coming off a game where they had a 3-0 lead but lost 4-3 in overtime (sounds familiar).
The irony is that the loss to the Sharks allowed them to earn another point and slowly move up in the standings. However, the game felt like a loss that left them empty-handed when it didn’t, and in a way, that’s been the story of the Islanders’ season.