Hockey

NY ISLANDERS: NIGHTMARE SECOND PERIOD DOOMS ISLANDERS IN 6-3 LOSS TO CAPITALS THURSDAY NIGHT IN D.C. By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

OOF!

That was painful to watch. Whoever thought it was a good idea to give the Islanders the same serum that changed Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, please, please take it back. 

For the first 20-minutes of the game, the Boys from Long Island seemed poised to run away with the game; going up 3-0 by the time the first intermission came around. But a nightmare second period doomed the Nassaumen in an eventual 6-3 loss to the Capitals Thursday night in D.C.

Heading into the game, Isles’ Head Coach Barry Trotz had made a point of saying how angry he was at his team’s performance against these same Capitals on Tuesday night, telling the media after their first D.C. loss: “It’s playoff mentality right now and I’m not sure we have our playoff mentality yet. And it’s pissing me off.” 

And prior to Thursday’s Round Two against Washington, Trotz added: “There’ll be a change or two. We’re limited a bit with the roster, but we’ll make some changes. You’ll see.”

Those changes were on display early in the Isles’ 6-3 loss to the Caps Thursday night at Capital One Arena. The teams opened the game like two boxers, feeling each other out for several minutes before deciding to go on the attack.

The first noticeable change for the Nassaumen was the presence of Oliver Wahlstrom in the lineup. Wahlstrom was drafted in the first-round (11th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and hasn’t had the smoothest road to the NHL. But on this night, his journey paid off. 

It’s true, Wahlstrom did make his NHL Debut last season, registering nine games played before being sent back down to the AHL. However, those nine games failed to impress the powers that be. 

But on Thursday night, that didn’t matter. 

With 9:50 gone by in the opening period — just as the pace of the game was ramping up — Wahlstrom carried the puck into the Caps’ zone from the left side and snapped off a shot that went off Washington’s Trevor van Riemsdyk and past goalie Vitek Vanecek for the 1-0 New York lead. It was also the first goal of his NHL career (the Islanders certainly hope it’s the first of many). 

The Boys from Long Island landed the first blow. The question then became if they could continue to do so. And at first, it seemed the answer would be a resounding “YES.”

18 seconds after Wahlstrom’s goal, on the very next shift of the game to be precise, Cal Clutterbuck sent a shot from the point towards the Capitals’ net and linemate Casey Cizikas, who was parked in front of Vanecek, deflected the puck past the left pad of Washington’s goalie for the quick 2-0 lead. 

2-0 sounded good at the time. And 7:31 later, 3-0 sounded even better when Captain Anders Lee – playing in his 500th game with the Islanders — converted on a power-play goal from HIS office (the slot in front of the crease) thanks to a brilliant pass from Mathew Barzal. Lee’s blocker side goal brought the Isles’ skittering power-play to 5-for-27 on the season, but more importantly, it put them up 3-0 in the game heading into the first intermission.

And that’s when somebody, we don’t know who, decided to dig up Robert Louis Stevenson’s infamous transformational serum and converted the Dr. Jekyll Islanders into the Mr. Hyde Nassaumen. 

The first nine minutes of the second period saw several chances by both teams, but no scoring and no penalties. 

After that is when everything went wrong and the transformation occurred; albeit slowly at first. 

First came a Conor Sheary goal at 9:07 of the second period. John Carlson fired a shot from the point that Varlamov couldn’t control the rebound on as the puck came out to Sheary in the high slot. Sheary pulled a quick little spin move and fired the puck past Semyon Varlamov to get Washington on the board. 3-1.

1:13 later, Sheary boxed out Nick Leddy in front of Varlamov and deflected Zdeno Chara’s shot out of mid-air and into the Islanders’ net to transform the once comfortable 3-0 game into a tight 3-2 affair.

The Isles couldn’t stop the bleeding and 59 seconds later, Garnet Hathaway fired a wrist shot from the right face-off circle through Varlamov’s blocker side and into the net to tie the game at 3. YIKES! You could maybe excuse each of Sheary’s goals — one was a spin move through traffic and the other a wicked deflection — but this was a weak goal to allow and at a time when his team could ill afford it. 

There was some thought after Hathaway’s goal that Varlamov could be pulled in favor of backup Cory Schneider, (Ilya Sorokin had been placed on the Taxi Squad earlier in the day), but Barry Trotz stuck with Varlamov.

To compound the situation, Wahlstrom was assessed a hooking penalty against T.J. Oshie at 12:56 to send the reeling Boys from Long Island to a very important penalty-kill.

Perhaps, if they could kill the penalty they could right the ship? 

If you have a queasy stomach, you might want to turn away now.

With around 60-percent of Washington’s power-play gone, Isles’ D-man Adam Pelech whiffed on a clearing attempt from the slot, allowing the Capitals to keep the puck in New York’s zone.

The puck came around and up to the point where Justin Schultz passed it over to John Carlson, who was occupying Alex Ovechkin’s usual office, and Carlson fired the Ovechkin-esque one-timer past Varlamov for the fourth goal of the period for the home team. 

4-3 Capitals, but plenty of time remaining in the period and the game for New York to turn its fortunes around. 

Alas, that proved to be a pipe dream.

4:14 after Carlson’s power-play goal — 18:30 into the second period — the ageless Zdeno Chara (he’s a spry 43-years-old) bombed a slapshot from just above the left face-off circle past Varlamov for Washington’s fifth-consecutive goal of the period. 

“We just have to compete on the ice and keep working through it,” said Casey Cizikas after the game.

The transformation from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde was complete for the Islanders as the teams headed to their dressing rooms for the second intermission.

“You go through ups and downs through the season,” explained Scott Mayfield after the game. “This one seems pretty low.”

It was surprising when Varlamov came out to start the third period for New York, but considering Schneider’s inactivity, Trotz decided to stick with his starter. It was both a show of respect for his netminder, acknowledging the team’s deficit wasn’t solely on the goalie’s shoulders, but also a matter of not having many viable roster options.

The Boys from Long Island briefly tried to get back into the game early in the third as they ran off a 4-0 shots on goal advantage, but Washington clamped down and held the visitors off the board the rest of the way; all the while registering just a single shot on goal during the period. 

Tom Wilson poured salt on the Islanders’ wounds with an empty-net goal with 18.7 seconds to go in the game. 6-3 Washington was the final. 

It’s the Islanders’ third straight loss and one they will dissect ad nauseum I’m sure. It’s also the first time since January 18, 2020, the Isles had given up five-goals in a period; who was their opponent that night? The Washington Capitals.

According to Anders Lee, after the game, “Barry (Trotz) said his piece.” We’ll see what that “piece” means Saturday in Philadelphia. 

“It’s a tough one because we didn’t play that poorly for 50 minutes of that game,” lamented Trotz after the game. We shall see what, if any changes occur against the Flyers. Hopefully there won’t be any more evil transformations.

GAME NOTES:

Oliver Wahlstrom scored his first career NHL goal at 9:50 of the first period…The Islanders went 1-for-2 on the power-play to bring their season power-play total to 5-for-27…Noah Dobson registered another assist, this one on Anders Lee’s power-play goal…Anders Lee played his 500th career game with the Islanders.

NEXT GAME:

Saturday January 30th Islanders at Flyers at Wells Fargo Center at 7pm(EST).

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