Mathew Barzal: "We’ve got to start playing desperate hockey almost"
Only four games into the regular season and with a 2-2-0 record, the New York Islanders aren't a desperate team but may need to start playing a desperate brand of hockey to come out on the other side of the upcoming five-game stretch against Stanley Cup contenders that starts with a back-to-back against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.
"These are two big games coming up. It’s maybe crazy to say it, but we’ve got to start playing desperate hockey almost."- Mathew Barzal in Newsday
Before they knew it last year, a 5-2-2 start became 5-10-5 after an 11-game winless streak following key injuries, a COVID outbreak, and some poor play. It was an uphill battle from that point on with no margin of error. The Islanders needed to play near-perfect hockey to make the playoffs. They couldn't. They were better, even good, during some stretches, but the math and the schedule were too much to overcome.
This season started with an uneven four-game home stand. After a highly competitive 3-1 loss to the Panthers on opening night, the team scored 12 goals in two games against the struggling Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks that had the team, in the words of their coach 'trending up.'
But any momentum the Islanders had built came crashing down in a lopsided loss to the New Jersey Devils that was more lopsided than the 4-1 final score. The Islanders were outplayed, but worse, the effort left the team and their coach questioning their compete level and work ethic.
“I think everybody’s attention was grabbed by the way we played,” head coach Lane Lambert said. “I’m not going to make any excuses. It’s unacceptable. We just weren’t ready to go as good as we should have been. It won’t happen again.”
The game served as an early wake-up call for the team. They were embarrassed by their performance on Thursday night, and despite the veteran presence in the dressing room, perhaps it was needed and will serve them well ahead of the upcoming stretch of games.
Each game and every two points are important, and as last year proved, just because the calendar reads October or November doesn't mean there doesn't need to be a sense of urgency. The islanders are talented enough to win, being outworked by their opponents.
The game against the Devils revealed and reinforced that. Now they have to use that early lesson learned to ensure it doesn't happen again.