With the Washington Capitals down four players, including Alex Ovheckin, because of the COVID-19 protocol, the New York Islanders had a prime opportunity to gain ground on the road.
Instead, what followed Tuesday night was a missed chance that’ll have the Islanders and head coach Barry Trotz shaking their collective heads.
It was a 3-2 loss thanks to Justin Schultz’s goal with 27 seconds to go, but the Islanders arguably lost the game before that puck hit twine.
Again, the offense, which has scored one or fewer goals in three games already, couldn’t get things going for the most part. Mathew Barzal scored the lone goal among the forwards corps Tuesday. He’s scored three of the team’s 11 overall goals this year. Only the Carolina Hurricanes (nine goals) rank worse, and they’ve played just three games.
“I just felt we had one line tonight,” Trotz said. “That’s all I felt like I had tonight.”
The Islanders bench boss largely is right in his assessment. According to Natural Stat Trick, only Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle finished with Corsi For percentages above 50. Not a single player from the bottom-six had a CF above 40 percent. Even worse, Leo Komarov and Ross Johnston clocked in below 30 percent. While just one game, in a truncated season, every period is magnified. And so is every mistake.
Again, the Islanders had chances (three) on the power play and did not take advantage. Granted, Barzal’s tally did come shortly after the man advantage, but the Islanders are now clicking at 16 percent on the power play, well-entrenched into the bottom half of the league.
But arguably the biggest unforced error came in the third period. Komarov took a major boarding penalty on Lars Eller in the offensive zone, which was egregious enough. The Islanders did have a strong five-minute penalty kill and even had a decent chance on a 2-on-1 with Brock Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau that ended up just wide of the net. It had the potential of being a momentum-swinging kill for the Islanders, though it ended as just a mere footnote from this game.
Leo Komarov gets a five minute major penalty for boarding Lars Eller, who has left the game. Sees numbers entire way and doesn't let up or try and avoid hit. @NHLPlayerSafety should probably be reviewing this one.. pic.twitter.com/Ve1AYwPott
— NHL Safety Watch (@NHLSafetyWatch) January 27, 2021
With the game still knotted at 2-2 in the waning seconds, it looked as if the Islanders would at least earn a point by getting to overtime. Komarov, whose penalty put the Islanders in a bind not long before, was back out on the ice. On a simple zone entry, Komarov failed to keep Schultz in front of him and let him rip off a strong wrister that beat Semyon Varlamov.
Trotz has held other players, notably Barzal in the recent past, for taking unnecessary penalties. Sure, it was Komarov’s first game this season. But even putting the penalty aside, he should just about never be touching the ice in crunch time, given how poor just about every metric looks at Komarov in an unfavorable light.
But the winger was back out there and was exposed on that final goal. The decision to give him ice time after the penalty, even more so in a critical part of the game, comes down to Trotz. The head coach has done a lot of positive things with this Islanders roster in his first two-plus years at the helm.
“No, I don’t have any regrets,” Trotz said about rolling Komarov out there for a shift at the end. But whether you look at it from a decision standpoint or the final score, it was misguided. No statistic or eye test would back up having Komarov out there in that situation. For reference, he held a negative 23.13 Corsi relative percentage from this game.
The loss dampens another solid effort from Varlamov, who made 34 saves on 37 shots. He bailed the Islanders out in the first period, when he made 16 saves and stalwart on a Capitals flurry in the first 10 minutes.
More meaningfully, though, the Islanders, did not do themselves favors standings-wise. They’re in seventh of eight in the division, which might not sound like a cause for concern six games in. But a 56-game sprint against intra-division foes every night puts added importance on every game.
And mistakes on the ice and behind the bench cost the New York Islanders two points Tuesday.