The Detroit Red Wings will face a roadblock in their attempts to earn a playoff spot in the New York Islanders on Friday evening (7:00 PM EST on FSD Plus/MSG+/97.1 FM).
Petr Mrazek’s Wings (Mrazek starts Friday night) are catching the Islanders in a “down” portion of their schedule as New York has dropped 4 of their past 5 games, including a 4-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday evening.
The Islanders managed to rally from a 3-0 deficit, but they fell to 1-3-and-1 over their past 5 games as they surrendered the game-winning goal late in the 3rd period, as Newsday’s Mark Hermann noted:
[Islanders captain John] Tavares dejectedly pointed the finger at himself for allowing the Sabres’ Sam Reinhart to score with 4:14 left, spoiling an inspired comeback from a three-goal deficit and missing a golden opportunity to pick up two points or at least one. As it was, the Islanders lost on Thursday to the Eastern Conference’s last-place team, 4-3.
“They just capitalized more on their opportunities than we did. We had some chances, we tied it up. Just a blown coverage by me in our own zone, and it led to a goal-against that obviously decided the game,” Tavares said.
Ross Johnston and Anders Lee had scored in the third period to bring the Islanders all the way back. The comeback, and the success the Islanders had in overcoming their own greatest weakness — limiting the Sabres to 22 shots — made the result that much tougher to take.“Very tough, just unfortunate,” Tavares said. “Overall a pretty decent hockey game. We got a big goal from Johnny and Anders. Just a blown coverage in our own zone and it cost us.”Doug Weight did not think it was Tavares’ fault at all. “What happened is [Jack] Eichel tried to throw it to the net and it hits off a skate, so John switches his stick position and it goes right by him. It was a ping-pong ball bouncing around,” the coach said.“Nothing was missing,” Weight said. “We played a great game.”
2. ISLES RALLY TO TIE IT, BUT LOSE IT LATE:
After falling behind 3-0, the Islanders rallied back to tie the score 3-3. The Islanders got a pair of goals from their big guns in Tavares and Lee, who co-lead the team with 28 goals, and one from an unlikely source, as Johnston netted his second career goal in his fifth career game.
Tavares got the Islanders on the board midway through the second period, going to the net after being dumped in the corner by Marco Scandella, fishing out a Thomas Hickey rebound and stuffing it past Lehner.
Johnston made it 3-2 at 7:30 of the third period, rifling a shot upstairs past Lehner from some chaos in the slot. The game felt like it was turning in the Islanders’ favor, as Lee collected a friendly bounce off the end boards and potted it past Lehner at the side of the net at 14:33.
At that point the Islanders look destined to at least take a point out of the affair, but Reinhart swept home a rebound 1:13 later for the winner. The preceding rally made it that much harder to stomach postgame.
“After spotting them a couple in the first period we knew we were in a hole and had to battle back,” Lee said. “We tie it up late in the third and obviously when you do that and come back and battle and leave with zero points, especially the way things have been going, this one doesn’t sit well at all.”
3. TWO POINTS LOST: Losing the game hurt in the immediate, but losing two points to a struggling team is what will stick with the Islanders, who had a chance to move back into the playoff picture with a point Thursday. As the Eastern Conference playoff race remains airtight, Weight had set a goal of at least nine or 10 points during this six-games in nine night stretch, so going 0-for-1 was not how the coach envisioned starting this key stretch.
“We can’t afford to lose hockey games,” Weight said.
The Associated Press’s Islanders-Sabres recap also offers some quotes of note…
The Islanders squandered an opportunity to jump ahead of idle Columbus for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. They dropped to 1-3-1 in their last five games.
“Nothing was missing. We had a great game,” coach Doug Weight said. “I thought we got good performances from a lot of guys. I mean, we’re going to win hockey games. We just can’t afford to lose those.”
Reinhart got the game-winner 73 seconds after Lee tied it at 3.
Eichel began the play when his shot from the right boards hit a skate and caromed into the slot to Rodrigues, whose shot was stopped by Halak. Reinhart was left alone in front to knock in the rebound.
The Islanders have allowed three or more goals in 10 of their past 11 games.
“If we bring that same effort, that same intensity, I like our odds,” [Ross] Johnston said. “If we play that way and stick to the game plan, we’ll start getting results here.”
As does NHL.com’s Joe Yerdon’s recap:
“Very frustrating,” Islanders coach Doug Weight said. “We cleaned it up and we played hard. That’s what they did. They tried to slow the game down but we kept playing. We rolled the lines. I thought we got good performances from a lot of guys. I mean, we’re going to win hockey games, we just can’t afford to lose those.”
Reinhart helped the Sabres get out to a 2-0 lead when he assisted on first-period goals by Eichel (7:41) and Rodrigues (13:21). O’Reilly’s power-play goal at 7:18 of the second period made it 3-0.
Rodrigues’ goal was his first since he scored two Dec. 10 (22 games). Reinhart, Eichel and Rodrigues played as a line for the first time against the Islanders.
“I’m really happy for Evan, finally getting a goal,” Housley said. “Hopefully that’ll boost his confidence, but I really liked that line. It really mixed well tonight.”
The Islanders scored three straight goals to tie the game.
Johnston made it 3-2 with his second goal at 7:30 of the third period, and Lee’s 28th of the season, on the power play, made it 3-3 at 14:33.
NHL.com posted Islanders-Sabrese highlights…
Halak in goal
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 8, 2018
STATS posted a game preview that will serve as our pivot point between the Islanders and Red Wings’ perspectives:
The 22 shots allowed by the Islanders were the fewest they’ve surrendered since Dec. 19, when the Red Wings collected 21 shots in a 6-3 win at Barclays Center.
“We had a lot of good chances and a lot of good opportunities and we’ve got to find a way to win these games,” Islanders coach Doug Weight told the team’s postgame television show Thursday night. “Losing stinks and it’s not something that we can do a lot of coming down the stretch here. But we’re going to win some games if we play like that, if we play smart like we did.”
The Red Wings (21-23-8) are also nearing must-win territory if they hope to return to the playoffs. Detroit, which made the postseason in 25 straight seasons before missing last year, enters Friday eight points behind the Islanders and Blue Jackets.
“I think there’s a huge urgency (to) the games we have coming — the games we have ahead of us will make the latter games matter,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill told reporters after practice Thursday. “It’s a critical junction.”
Greiss last played Jan. 31 when he took the loss after making 45 saves as the Islanders fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-0. Jaroslav Halak has started 18 of the last 21 games for New York, including Thursday night, when he had 18 saves in taking the loss against the Sabres.
Mrazek, who sat in favor of Jimmy Howard against the Bruins on Tuesday, hasn’t played since last Saturday, when he took the loss after recording 30 saves as the Red Wings fell to the Florida Panthers, 3-2.
Greiss is 2-2-1 in six career appearances against the Red Wings. Mrazek is 6-3-0 in 10 games against the Islanders.
As the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa noted, the Red Wings are entering an incredibly busy portion of their schedule between today and February 26th:
After the Islanders, the Red Wings begin a stretch of nine games in 15 days that will take them to the NHL trade deadline Feb. 26.
They have only 12 games remaining at home, and five will be played before the deadline.
“If we do well,” Larkin said, of the approaching juncture of the season, “we could be right where we want to be with one month left.”
Beginning play Thursday, the Red Wings were eight points out of the second wild-card spot counting the tie-breaker.
Their playoff chances are among the longest of long shots.
“I think there’s a huge urgency in the games we have coming,” Blashill said. “The games we have ahead of us will make the latter games matter, if you take care of business. So we need to make those game matter at the end of the year by winning right now.”
MLive’s Ansar Khan duly noted that the Red Wings are concerned about their younger players’ inconsistencies, with coach Blashill determined to hammer out steadier play from his youngsters:
“Guys coming up from the American League generally are elite players at the American League level, so their talent discrepancy (in the AHL) is greater,” Blashill said. “There’s still, I think, discrepancy in talent amongst the American League teams where you can take nights off and win in that league. There is none of those here.
“Even teams with bad records aren’t bad teams. Every night you have to be so much on top of your game. I think it’s a learned process at times for young guys to understand, and that’s what separates the elite players in the league from the good players — the guys that find a way to be at the 90 to 100 percentile of their max every single night because there just is no chance to kind of skill yourself around the rink.”
Anthony Mantha played like a burgeoning power forward the first 26 games, collecting 12 goals and 22 points. In 24 games since, he’s produced four goals and eight points – just one point (a goal) in the past nine games.
“For me, it’s been a message for four years now,” Mantha said. “I think lately I’ve been playing pretty good. We talked, me and Blash, a lot this year, a lot of video. Just be focused every game, every shift, do the little details you need to perform.”
Andreas Athanasiou has no points in six games, following a stretch in which he picked up nine goals and 21 points in 29 games. He logged only 10:57 against the Bruins, well below his season average (16:00).
Tyler Bertuzzi, whose effectiveness isn’t measured so much in stats as it is in forechecking, winning puck battles and being engaged physically, played a season-low 7:54 vs. Boston.
Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi spoke with the Detroit News’s Krupa about their respective learning curves:
“At first, it’s hard,” Larkin said. “It’s 82 games. It’s practice almost every day. Luckily, for young guys in this room, including myself, we have great leadership that you get to look at every day. It’s an everyday reminder of what it takes to be who they are, and why they are still playing and why they are the leaders on our team.
“The games don’t get easier, this time of year,” Larkin said. “The guys are tired. But the guys that are the best players in the world, they show up every day, they play every night. So, it’s definitely been learning every one of my first three years. This time of year is a tough time of year, but we’ve definitely got to find a way to produce.”
After an impressive first several games to his 2017-18 NHL season, Bertuzzi has been less effective at times recently. As a result, he played less.
“Yeah, I mean, sometimes certain guys are going and some aren’t,” Bertuzzi said. “You know, it was a slow start for the last game. I’ve played 18 minutes. I’ve played 10 minutes. If I play well, (coach Jeff Blashill) is going to play me. And that’s what it is.”
Bertuzzi said he is aware not only of the time in his career, but the time in the season for the Red Wings.
“This a part of the season when we need to get wins,” he said. “So whatever (Blashill) sees the lines are going to be to get us goals, that’s going to be who’s going to go.”
The coach summarized his takes on player preparation to DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji:
“The guys that figure it out are the ones that are the real good players in the league,” Blashill said. “My job is to make sure I’m their mirror and make sure I’m telling them when they’re doing it right, when they’re not doing it right. Certainly after the other night, my job as a mirror was to say it wasn’t good enough. We weren’t determined enough.
“We went out there, we were OK, we hung on, we had a chance to win at the end but we weren’t determined enough. We didn’t have enough chances. We’ve got to be more determined than that. I don’t care if you’re big or small, you got to make sure you come out with that level of determination.”
As Larkin mentioned, the young players do have a lot of good examples to follow in the team’s leaders.
“That’s one thing that I think that we have going for us above other organizations in the league, at least on my knowledge of coaching other teams in the world championships, talking to other people who get traded here or sign here as free agents,” Blashill said. “We have a group of guys that do it right and guys that you can learn from in Zetterberg and (Niklas) Kronwall, but I’d include guys like (Frans) Nielsen and (Mike) Green and (Trevor) Daley and (Jonathan) Ericsson. They do it right every day.
“So there is no excuse. There’s models here to make sure that guys can emulate themselves after in terms of the approach every single day. Zetterberg’s one of the best. There’s no days where he can just skate around the rink because he’s a fluid, easy skater, it’s every day he’s got to be ready. He’s got to be ready to battle and grind and he does.”
In the multimedia department, the Red Wings’ website posted a clip of coach Blashill speaking with the media…
“There’s no bad teams, even teams with bad records aren’t bad teams. So every night you have to be so much on top of your game.”
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 8, 2018
And the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa posted clips of Blashill and Tyler Bertuzzi talking about consistency of youth: