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New York Islanders

New York Islanders: Three Steps Forward, One Step Back, Back to Reality?

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New York Islanders

The New York Islanders took a 2-1 lead into the third period of Tuesday night’s contest, but the result was a 4-3 shootout defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals. A clean third period would have meant a fourth consecutive win for the Islanders, a crucial regulation win for a team staring up at Washington, who hold down the final wild-card spot in the East.

But rather than take a step forward, the Islanders took a step back, a step back to reality.

The Islanders did get a point and showcased a resilient effort to tie Tuesday’s game late in the third, but they had the lead, something they did an excellent job with on their win streak at holding onto but failed to do on Tuesday night.

“We’re competing. We’re in every game,” New York Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “Top to bottom, I think we’ve all played pretty solid hockey from the goalies on out, and we’re just trying to continue to put these good games together.”

“And when you start getting results, and you start feeling good about yourself, and your team game and things start to come a little bit easier.”

Unfortunately for the Islanders, given their place in the standings, one point Tuesday night was not going to cut it. Although a playoff hope was lightyears away, the failure to obtain two points against Washington and allow them to gain a point has the Islanders now 19 points back with four games at hand.

Over the Islanders’ three-game win streak, they had scored the contest’s first goal, outscoring their opponents 17-5. They had kept the mistakes to a minimum, which allowed them to get the lead, build on the lead, and hold their lead.

They had also beaten three teams on the outside looking in. The Washington Capitals were a big test, as they were the first playoff team the Islanders would face since turning their season around.

And like the Islanders have played against most playoff teams this season, similar issues arose.

The Islanders turned the puck over a handful of times, leading to two of the three Capitals goals. Despite outshooting the Capitals 11-9 in the first period, the Capitals had more scoring chances. And despite the shot count tied 32 through regulation and overtime, the Capitals had 34 scoring chances to the Islanders 20.

Before the New York Islanders win streak, they lost a game to the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 5-4. Semyon Varlamov was left out to dry but showcased a resilient effort, with the scoreboard reading 5-1 in the third.

That was the kind of game that the Islanders played on Tuesday night, albeit not to the extent.

It was actually a rather similar game to the one the Islanders played in their 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 26, where too many turnovers came back to bite them.

The Islanders were out-chanced in that game 41-26.

The Islanders win streak saw the Islanders play the way many envisioned they would play this season. But keep in mind, they beat three teams not currently in a playoff spot.

The Washington Capitals are a playoff team.

Credit the Capitals, as they were all over the Islanders from the get-go, which forced netminder Semyon Varlamov to have be on his game early.

The same defensive structure that had been on display over the latest three-game stretch was not as sharp. And the better teams find ways to exploit that.

Now, the Islanders winning games is still important as this team wants to finish the year strong and finish with the confidence that the 2022-23 season will be better. The Islanders were not going to win out, no matter how good of a game they were playing. But it was encouraging to see the Islanders show some life, that winning game that brought them success in the postseason.

And even in the loss to the Capitals, the Islanders had that “never give up” attitude that quite frankly had been missing, for the most part, this season.

But that inability to put together a full sixty-minute effort against stronger teams has surely plagued them.

Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson spoke on why the Islanders had struggled earlier in the season and how they are playing better hockey as of late.

“We couldn’t play a full sixty consistently playing that Islander identity, and I think we’ve just been doing a better job of that as of late,” Dobson said. “If we knew why I think at the start of the year, we would have fixed it. It’s just one of those things that we just didn’t have it early on, but we found it now…”.

Again, the Islanders got a point. They came back after Alex Ovechkin scored a milestone goal in front of a packed Capital One Arena, a fanbase that went absolutely berzerk.

“It was a good response. The place was going crazy for Ovi, and there’s a lot of energy in the building,” Trotz said. “We fought through that, and we found a way to just concentrate on the task at hand, which is what you want your team to do.”

While Trotz is correct, if the Islanders had played the way they had played during their win streak, this game would not have needed a “comeback story.”

The Islanders next play the New York Rangers, who are coming off an overtime victory against the Anaheim Ducks, followed by a contest against a hungry Dallas Stars team that sits a point out of a wild-card spot.

Do the Islanders use Tuesday’s game to get back into the win column, or was the three-game win streak just a glimpse of what could have been?