The New York Islanders continued to struggle as they fell to the visiting Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 at the Barclays Center Monday night. Kyle Okposo scored the only goal of the game for the Isles who are now just 1-4-2 in their last seven games and lead the Flyers by just three points in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The team’s frustrations were clearly felt in the locker room after the game. “It’s an important time of year and we’re not playing our best,” captain John Tavares explained. “The main thing is that we stay positive and stay together. Obviously, we’re in the final stretch, but we still like our team. We’re a good hockey team.”
The Islanders did not struggle early in the game as has been their pattern in recently. The team actually came out strong and controlled play early, taking the first six shots on goal in the game. Nikolay Kulemin had a breakaway in the opening minute but couldn’t beat Flyers goalie Steve Mason and the game remained scoreless after 20 minutes. As the first period continued, the Isles gradually lost momentum and the Flyers began to take control of the tempo.
The Flyers quickly grabbed the lead just 2:24 into the second period when Jakub Voracek won the race for a loose puck in the Islanders zone and centered it to Nick Cousins who deflected it past Isles goalie Thomas Greiss.
Okposo answered just 1:30 later when he scored off a scramble in front and the Islanders had evened the contest at 1-1. It was Okposo’s 20th goal of the season and the third time he has reached the 20-goal mark in his career. Calvin de Haan made a good play to keep the puck in the Philadelphia zone and earned the only assist on the goal.
Brandon Manning put the Flyers ahead for good at 13:01 of the middle stanza on his first career NHL goal. He had just emerged from the penalty box when former Islander Andrew MacDonald hit him with a lead pass. Manning lifted a perfectly placed wrist shot past Greiss and the Flyers led 2-1 after 40 minutes.
The Islanders should have come out desperate in the third period down by a goal in an important divisional game but the Flyers settled down and clogged up the neutral zone preventing the Islanders from getting much going offensively. The Islanders were limited to just two shots on goal in the first half of the third and managed just seven shots on net for the entire period.
Sam Gagner gave the Flyers a 3-1 lead just 4:22 into the final stanza off a nice pass by Sean Couturier who had too much time to maneuver just outside the Islanders crease. An empty-net goal by Claude Giroux in the final minute provided the final goal of the game.
The players are clearly upset over their recent play. “There’s a lot of guys that are playing with a lot of urgency and you’ve got other guys that are struggling,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “You can’t have four or five guys struggling at this time of year if you’re going to be successful…We need all twenty guys going. We can’t have passengers on any given night or we are going to find ourselves in a struggle to win that hockey game. We just hope that some of the guys that are struggling now can find their way in the last few games that we have.”
Among those struggling tonight was the line of Brock Nelson, Shane Prince and Josh Bailey. Nelson was a minus-four for the game while Prince and Bailey were each a minus-three.
The Islanders continue to struggle to score goals. The team has scored just 11 times in the seven games since Jaroslav Halak has gotten hurt with only Okposo and Tavares tallying more than once during that stretch.
The Islanders return to action Wednesday night when they host the Ottawa Senators at 7 pm at the Barclays Center.
The loss put a damper on Tavares’ 500th career NHL game. He has 200 goals and 457 points thus far.
Official attendance was 14,329.
Calvin de Haan led the Islanders with six blocked shots.
Former Islander Andrew MacDonald finished the game with an assist and was a plus-four.