When it was all over, and all the players had left the ice—some earlier than others—and all of fighting majors and game misconducts had been totaled up, the New York Islanders were on the wrong side of a 6-1 loss to the Metropolitan Division-rival New Jersey Devils.
Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was mostly empty by the time the final horn sounded, but the box score certainly wasn’t.
All told, the Islanders racked up 66 penalty minutes; as a direct result, the Devils racked up four of their six goals. In a stop-and-go contest that felt less like a hockey game and more like a clinic in scorekeeping, the frustration on the faces of the Isles players became more evident with each Devils power play goal.
The Devils never trailed during the game and held a lead of at least two goals for most of it. Somewhere in the midst of the never-ending line of Islanders players skating to the penalty box, Jaromir Jagr recorded his 700th career goal on a shot that deflected past Evgeni Nabokov off of Andrew MacDonald’s skate.
Because when it rains inside the Coliseum, it has a tendency to poor.
Jagr also assisted on the fourth Devils goal (scored by Marek Zidlicky), fittingly, on the power play. After the game, Kyle Okposo pointed to that goal essentially as the game-winner. “I thought that fourth one kind of put a dagger in us,” Okposo said. “I think that we need to keep going there as a team, we’ve got to work a little bit harder than that. We hung our heads a little bit.”
The frustration at being unable to keep the Devils from scoring on an at-will basis finally boiled over at 15:23 of the third period; Travis Hamonic took exception to Ryan Carter laying an aggressive hit on his defense partner, MacDonald.
Hamonic—who had already been booked for a fight with Steve Bernier earlier in the period—promptly went after Carter in front of the Devils bench and earned himself 27 more penalty minutes and an early shower for his troubles.
“We’re sticking up for each other at the end, which is good to see,” said Calvin de Haan afterwards. “I thought we worked hard, but it was just a couple breakdowns on the PK.”
The lack of success on the penalty kill was a common thread in the dressing room. The quotes weren’t notable, but the disappointment in each player’s voice was. For all of the criticism this team has taken for its poor play this season, it’s not due to a lack of passion among the players.
Jack Capuano also focused on the poor special-teams play by his team in his postgame press conference. “It all starts with entries,” Capuano said. “For me it’s always the first eight seconds. We had chances really to pressure in the first eight seconds before they got set up and we didn’t.
“We allowed some seams that we normally don’t allow. We didn’t respond after the first couple they got. It’s how you respond and we didn’t do a really good job of that tonight. We left our goalie out to dry on a couple of them,” Capuano said.
The cliché is that the goaltender has to be a team’s best penalty killer, but when the defense in front of him is allowing free puck movement and cross-ice passes, it’s difficult for him to come up with the saves time after time.
In related news: Nabokov was pulled after the second period, having given up 5 goals to that point, three of which were on the power play.
Nabokov offered the most succinct description of the Isles’ issues in the loss: “It’s very simple. This wasn’t anything else other than the penalty kill. On the penalty kill, the goaltenders are a big part of it and it wasn’t good enough.”
His frustration and the candor with which he voiced it were exactly what was shown by his teammates on the ice (read: Hamonic’s game-high 32 penalty minutes). For a team now looking at a bottom-five league finish, it was only a matter of time before that type of disappointment bubbled to the surface.
There was, however, one positive to be taken from Saturday’s game: at least it’s over.
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