For all the talk about a new way of playing and a revitalized mindset on offense, the Islanders provided a reminder of the obvious Thursday night: This is a team that will go only as far as goaltender Ilya Sorokin can take it.
But in a 4-1 loss to the Devils, which dropped the Islanders to 2-2 to finish their season-opening homestand, Sorokin supplied a reminder as well: He can’t do everything by himself.
It took 15 shots, at least according to the generous count of the UBS Arena scorekeeper, and more than a period of utterly dominant hockey for the Devils to get one by Sorokin, who managed to play hero for a significant portion of the night.
But when Jack Hughes got in behind the Islanders’ defense at 1:35 of the second period, the scoresheet finally reflected reality, and the Devils took a 1-0 lead.
A better effort from the Islanders might have resulted in Sorokin, who finished the night with 37 saves on 40 shots, stealing a game for them. Instead, the Islanders were left in the familiar position of lamenting a failure to play to the level of their goalie.
It was the Islanders’ worst performance of the young season, and it wasn’t close. They did not play at the same speed as the Devils, struggling with defensive-zone lapses on the rare occasions they possessed the puck. Sorokin was perhaps the only Islander who did not struggle, and he could only do so much.
Ondrej Palat added a second goal for the Devils at 8:09 of the second period, one-timing a pass from Jesper Bratt to beat Sorokin after sustained New Jersey pressure. If there were a reprieve coming for the home team, it might have been at 14:37 when Brendan Smith was called for tripping, but Anders Lee negated the final 41 seconds of what had been a mostly uninspiring power play with his second minor penalty of the evening at 15:56.
It was just that sort of night. Against the Devils, whose biggest issue is goaltending, the Islanders forced Mackenzie Blackwood to make just 16 saves. The lone Islanders goal was a consolation tally by Lee with an extra attacker on and 3:16 left in the game.
Palat had added a third goal for the Devils just over a minute earlier, beating Sorokin off the rush and prompting an already-sparse crowd to head towards the exits. Nico Hischier’s empty-netter made it 4-1 in the final minute.
If the Islanders take that effort to Florida, where they head next to play the Lightning and Panthers in a weekend back-to-back, it will be a long 48 hours down south.
In their rare good moments on Thursday, the Islanders managed to generate some chances when they got on the forecheck. Actually getting to that point was the problem.
The Islanders struggled for controlled zone entries when they did get the puck out of the defensive zone, and they settled too often for throwing the puck up the ice in order to give themselves some breathing room. After two strong performances in a row against the Sharks and Ducks, this loss put a damper on what had been a positive week.
Whether it was simply a bad night or a game that portends real issues, only time will tell. Sorokin can get the Islanders places. But not without a whole lot more support than he had on Thursday.
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