There are going to be games where the Islanders put in a phenomenal effort but come up on the short end of the score. Saturday night against the Sabres was one of those days.
Despite grossly out shooting their opponent and getting several great chances, the Islanders were only able to beat Ryan Miller twice as he made 41 saves to steal a 3-2 victory for Buffalo.
It's of no coincidence that the Islanders strong offensive play came on the same day that Lubomir Visnovsky and Josh Bailey made it into the lineup for the first time this season. Bailey only played on the 4th line, but got to see some powerplay minutes and was very solid, creating some good rushes and making a few nice passing plays. He'll be on a higher line in due time. Visnovsky added a nice shooting element on the powerplay, getting shots off quickly and effectively. Miller had trouble with a couple of the shots and it was a welcome sight to see a defenseman get shots through. He didn't hesitate with the shot and that really aided in giving the Islanders some powerplay chances. You could also tell he's one of the best passers this team has on the blueline.
Defensively the Islanders struggled, and it wasn't very often that they needed to play it. But the few times it was needed they failed, and in turn Evgeni Nabokov gave up a couple of weak goals. Once again, we saw the inability to clear the puck create one goal, and the inability to clear the crease and at least cause havoc create another as four Islanders stood by idly as Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson were allowed four and five chances to eventually slam a rebound home to open the scoring.
There's no doubt that if the Islanders play like this, they'll win more often than not. But what makes me the most uncomfortable is that a young team keeps on making the same mistakes over and over again when it comes to puck clearing and on positioning on defense, as we saw with David Ullstrom's coverage on Christian Ehrhoff's breakaway goal. At some point the Islanders will need a solid veteran who can still contribute in the top-6 up front to be able to teach the young forwards how to maintain a solid 2-way game.
We can only hope for a similar effort this week with a tough three game stretch ahead with the team visiting the Rangers again later in the week after a home match-up with the Hurricanes on Monday. I think the power play will come around at some point with their new look, and then everything can fall into place and this team hopefully doesn't let the losing skid extend. With it at four games right now and a short season, this team can't afford any more extended losing streaks and needs this one to end right here.
This week will be very telling about the battle level and mental toughness of this team.
Keep an eye out for links to the podcast from Sunday's show. For now, you can access the recording of the latest episode on our uStream page.