Critical, back-breaking mistakes continue to doom Islanders: ‘Little things biting us’

Ryan Pulock chose his words carefully on Thursday night when asked, after a 4-0 loss to the Blues in St. Louis, if the Islanders are where they need to be mentally. 

“Well, yeah, I think that’s something you can be better at,” he said. “Each individual, I think, needs to take care of those moments. Every game there’s going to be little moments. I think right now it’s those little things that are biting us. 

“And yeah it’s frustrating. We want to be doing better. But you just got to find a way at key times to just lock it down and we haven’t been doing that.” 

What was on display in giving up three goals in 32 seconds against St. Louis, and what has been evident in so many close losses this season, is the Islanders’ tendency to spiral out of control when faced with adversity. 

New York Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock and Islanders face a critical test this weekend. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

They allow teams to climb back into games with alarming frequency, the latest example coming in an eventual win on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

They take penalties and appear doomed to giving up a goal.

They have not scored an empty-net goal this season, a major factor in the number of overtime games they’ve played. 

The difference between the Islanders — who go into a crucial four-point game against Tampa on Saturday five points behind the Lightning for the second wild-card spot — being above or below the playoff cutline right now comes from repeated, inexplicable mistakes that lose them games. 

On Thursday, a missed clearance on a penalty kill led to St. Louis going up 1-0 and then seven seconds later, the Islanders blew coverage in the defensive zone and went down 2-0.

Then the same thing happened 25 seconds later and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over. 

“I don’t think so,” captain Anders Lee said, asked if that points to a mental issue. “I think we just turned it over and they made plays through us. No, I don’t think so.” 

Pulock wasn’t so sure. 

Anders Lee does not believe their issues are mental.
Anders Lee does not believe their issues are mental. Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

“That’s part of it,” he said. “When you give up a goal or you get a goal, the next shift is so crucial. It’s a moment in the game where you got to bear down and do what needs to be done. Just, tonight we didn’t do that.” 

Head coach Patrick Roy framed the loss in terms of puck management, but noted that, despite being a veteran team, the Islanders still have some young players — a list on which he included the 26-year-old Mathew Barzal, who is in his eighth year in the league — and talked of learning to stay in it when the chips are down, itself a tacit admission of the Islanders’ mental fortitude. 

“It’s our job to remain calm and believe we can come back in any game,” he said. “We were up 4-1 against the Rangers [on Sunday], they didn’t think about it, they just kept playing and came back and won the game in overtime. So we need to be able to do these things. I guess we just need to learn to play these games, that’s all.” 

Not only do they struggle to put together a comeback, but the Islanders are a team that other teams feel they can come back on.

That tendency cost Lane Lambert his job, and cost the Islanders a crucial point against the Rangers this week, which was the fifth time this season they have allowed a multi-goal comeback in the third period. They Islanders have put together one of those themselves just once. 

If they end up missing the playoffs, it almost surely will be the reason why. 

“We just need to find ways to stop the bleeding,” Roy said. “For some reason, there was nothing we could do.”

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