Islanders’ horrific slide continues with loss to Jets despite better effort

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Off the heels of one of their worst games all year, nothing other than two points was going to be enough for the Islanders on Tuesday. 

So no, it doesn’t mean much that the Isles put together a better, more competitive effort against the Jets than they did one night prior in Minnesota.

A 4-2 loss in Winnipeg, the Islanders’ third in a row and fifth in sixth games, is beyond silver linings for a team that could not find a way to halt its slow descent down the standings. 

With two days before they finish out this road trip with a must-win game against the basement-dwelling Blackhawks, the Isles need to embark on some soul-searching.

Because whatever self-examination occurred after being embarrassed by the Wild was not enough to stop the bleeding. 

The lack of compete that reared its head on Monday was gone, at least, and in another context, the Isles might have been able to wave this one off as a passable road performance on a back-to-back in which they didn’t get the bounces. 

Winnipeg Jets’ Gabriel Vilardi (13) celebrates his goal on New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. AP

But now is no time for that. 

With Bo Horvat and Mat Barzal split up again and the Islanders without Pierre Engvall — declared day-to-day with an upper-body injury — going 200 feet with the puck became a Herculean task.

The Isles remained too sloppy in their own zone and not crisp enough with their passes, and unsurprisingly, struggled to get on the cycle and sustain meaningful puck possession as a result. 

And, for good measure, they continued taking bad penalties. 

Winnipeg Jets’ Mason Appleton (22) celebrates his goal as New York Islanders’ Adam Pelech (3) looks away. AP

That, more than anything, was how this game fell apart. Neal Pionk broke a 1-1 tie with a power-play goal at the 15:19 mark of the second after Ilya Sorokin lost a skate blade, rendering him unable to go side-to-side and letting the former Ranger score into an essentially open net. 

Just 2:39 later, after the Islanders had killed off their third penalty of the second period, Adam Pelech failed to corral the puck at the left post — allowing Mason Appleton to stuff it in shortside. 

The Islanders made a run at a comeback, with Anders Lee cutting the lead to 3-2 on a banked-in goal just 35 seconds into the third period. 

But the Jets then did to the Islanders what the Isles used to do to so many other teams.

They bogged the game down, refused to allow sustained time in the offensive zone and sucked the life right out of their momentum. 

Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets makes a save as Adam Lowry and Bo Horvat of the New York Islanders battle. NHLI via Getty Images

Then, for good measure, Noah Dobson tripped Nino Niederreiter with 4:20 to go, bleeding another two minutes off the clock with another penalty that just can’t happen. 

The Jets didn’t score on that power play, but Kyle Connor would score into an empty net with 1:22 to go, sealing the game. 

Gabe Vilardi had opened the scoring for Winnipeg at the 9:41 mark of the first, getting on Josh Morrissey’s rebound, with the defenseman’s point shot touched by Adam Lowry along the way.

Lee struck back for the Isles, tipping in Mike Reilly’s shot right after the expiration of the game’s first power play. 

Anders Lee of the New York Islanders celebrates after scoring. NHLI via Getty Images

That momentum proved short-lived. 

It was clear going into January that the Islanders were going to get a major test, with eight of 10 games on the road starting Dec. 31.

There is no way around it — they are failing that test so far, with a 2-6-1 record since a New Year’s Eve loss to Pittsburgh. 

The schedule will ease up after Friday, at least in terms of playing at home.

If that does not give the Isles the boost they need, the season will slip away fast.

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