WASHINGTON (AP) — In a five-day span, the New York Islanders got shut out by a third-string goalie, allowed a go-ahead goal in the final minute and blew a three-goal lead.
Three games, three regulation losses and zero points to show for it.
Instead of approaching first place in the East, the Islanders go into a weekend series at Philadelphia not far from the bottom of the division. After a “wasted” 0-2 trip to Washington, coach Barry Trotz’s team is trying to pull itself together.
“Our confidence a little bit has been rattled,” Trotz said Thursday night. “This is a punch in the mouth and an upper cut to the jaw and you’ve just got to pick yourself up off the floor because no one else is going to do it.”
The latest blow might be the hardest to swallow because the Islanders were in command up 3-0 on the Capitals before everything fell apart. It was over after four goals against in 5:09, and the final score of 6-3 was ugly.
“We had a pretty bad lapse,” captain Anders Lee said. “It turns into a bad loss.”
It’s worse in the context of the previous two. New Jersey’s Scott Wedgewood blanked the Islanders on Sunday night, and then they thought they’d at least be headed to overtime against Washington on Tuesday night before Justin Schultz scored with 26.4 seconds left.
“You go through ups and downs through the season,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “This one seems pretty low.”
During an 82-game season, three games without a point isn’t reason to panic. But with the schedule shortened to 56 games and all the play inside the division, it was a costly five days.
Lee pointed out that New York lost its final seven games last season before the pandemic put hockey on pause until August. Almost that entire team is back and will try to draw from that experience.
“We’ve had tough stretches,” Lee said. “It’s a tough time to have a bad start. There’s no excuse for that, and we’ve got to right the ship right away and we’ve got a great chance to finish this road trip with a couple games in Philly.”
The Flyers won two in a row against the same Devils that beat the Islanders on Sunday. They’re in third place, the Islanders are in seventh and as general manager Lou Lamoriello’s longtime friend Yogi Berra said, it’s getting late early.
“We can’t look back,” Trotz said. “But there is an urgency level. I think there’s an urgency level right through the whole division because the whole division is ultra competitive. There’s not much difference between the top teams and the bottom teams, and so it is going to be the grind. Let’s embrace the grind, the battle and stay in the fight.”
The Islanders came out fighting. After going to the Eastern Conference final in the NHL’s playoff bubble last summer, they won three of their first four this season, and a blowout loss to the rival Rangers looked like a blip.
There were plenty of reasons to believe this team could put together another deep run. Semyon Varlamov led all goaltenders with a 0.33 goals-against average and .988 save percentage in a 3-0 start before losing twice to Washington, which drafted him in the first round in 2006.
But little of this is on Varlamov, so the Islanders have to figure out how to fix what’s wrong with them before it’s too late.
“Everyone wants to pile on right now,” Trotz said. “Sometimes when you think it gets the darkest, that’s when you’re closets to breaking out of it. So that’s what we’re going to hold onto right now.”
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