It turns out that Brandon Carlo‘s gaffe didn’t mean all that much during Tuesday’s game between the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders, aside from costing Tuukka Rask another shutout. Jordan Eberle seizing the opportunity translated to the Isles’ lone goal in a 5-1 loss.
Such a defeat continues a downward trend for the Islanders; they’ve now lost three straight with a combined score of 15-4 and are just 5-9-2 since Dec. 1.
To hear head coach Doug Weight explain it, this boils down to getting tougher.
“We have a good team and I told the guys that,” Weight said. “You’re going to go through these things. It’s time for our group to lose the frailty. We have to come out of this. We have to come out fighting and put in a great, gritty effort tomorrow.”
The Islanders face what is likely to be an equally motivated and frustrated Flyers team in Philadelphia on Thursday, but their upcoming stretch is about more than that game:
Thu, Jan 4 @ Philadelphia
Fri, Jan 5 vs Pittsburgh
Sun, Jan 7 vs New Jersey
Sat, Jan 13 @ NY Rangers
Mon, Jan 15 @ Montreal
Tue, Jan 16 vs New Jersey
Thu, Jan 18 vs Boston
As you can see, the next seven contests all come against Eastern Conference teams, with the next four all featuring Metropolitan Division foes. Interestingly, they’re heading into a back-to-back and three games in four nights, while they’ll get almost a week off after Sunday’s game against the Devils. Theoretically, the Islanders could dig deep for those three games and then recover before facing the Rangers.
Weight admits that a stretch like this “could change your year.”
Beyond, um, “frailty,” what is troubling the Islanders right now? Let’s look at a few things.
- Their power play slowed down: In six games from Dec. 13-23, the Islanders scored a power-play goal in every contest, generating eight on the man advantage during that stretch. During the last four games (three losses), the Islanders haven’t scored a power-play goal, going 0-for-15. They’ve allowed three power-play goals in those four games. That’s not a debacle, but when things aren’t clicking, every lost advantage stings.
- Goalies continue to struggle: Jaroslav Halak was better in December than November, but that’s a small victory since he only had a .906 save percentage that month. His struggles continued into the first game of 2018. Thomas Greiss has been, at times, disastrous. Otherwise, he’s just been mediocre in 2017-18.
- Brief struggles for top guns: Mathew Barzal is on a three-game pointless streak, and he didn’t generate a single shot on goal during Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to Boston. John Tavares hasn’t scored a point in the past two games, and sports an ugly -6 rating during that span. He only generated three SOG in those two contests.
It’s foolish to worry too much about Barzal and especially Tavares, as even the best players endure a tough run or two (perhaps Barzal is more vulnerable to a longer slump, as he’s still only played 42 games in the NHL somehow).
Special teams success can come and go, too.
The real concern remains consistent, even if Weight is probably wise in not hammering this point: the Islanders simply need more from Greiss and Halak. Both have track records of being good-to-great goalies, and even if you’d argue that the Islanders play a double-edged sword style that might put netminders in tough spots, they have to be better than this.
With all of these games coming up against teams in the competitive, congested Metro, this would be the perfect time for those goalies to get it together.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.