The race just to make the playoffs incredibly and fully is on now for the slipping Islanders. Their sudden tumble back to the pack in the Eastern Conference has enabled the Flyers to surge within legitimate striking distance with less than three weeks remaining in the regular season.
The Isles had played only two of 14 games since Feb. 19 in Brooklyn before returning Monday night to drop a critical 4-1 decision to Philadelphia at a quieted Barclays Center.
“It’s an important time of year and we’re not playing our best,” said captain John Tavares, whose 500th NHL game wasn’t a strong one for him or his team. “It starts with myself and leading the way. I know I have to be better. There is no panic, but obviously there needs to be some urgency right now. I still believe in our group, we just have to play better.”
Following a strong start to their five-week journey — with six wins in seven stops and then a solid home victory over Pittsburgh on March 8 — the Isles have hit the skids with just 11 goals and a 1-4-2 record over their past seven games, falling behind both the Rangers and the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division.
The Islanders continue to stumble their way down the stretch.
Meanwhile, the resurgent Flyers’ 9-2-1 record in their past dozen contests has pushed them within three points (85-82) of Jack Capuano’s team for what appears increasingly likely will be the final playoff berth in the East. “Some guys are giving us what they got, and some guys are struggling,” Capuano said. “Again, it’s the same guys that are on the scoresheet every night. 91 (Tavares) is trying to lead our team, but a few of our other guys, it’s nonexistent right now. We need the secondary guys to pick up our leaders here.”
Second-year forwards Ryan Strome and Anders Lee continue having trouble replicating last season’s success, while veterans Josh Bailey, Nikolay Kulemin and injured Mikhail Grabovski have provided little production.
“The way we’re built, we just can’t have any passengers on any given night,” Capuano said, “or we’re gonna find ourselves on the short end of winning hockey games.”
Shayne Gostisbehere fires a shot on goal for the Flyers as they continue their hot streak with a 4-1 win over the Islanders.
Including another home tilt on Wednesday against Ottawa, the Isles (38-24-9) will play seven of their final 11 in Brooklyn, where they are 21-9-4 in their first season since leaving Nassau Coliseum.
Kyle Okposo (20th of the season) netted the Isles’ lone goal against Steve Mason, while Nick Cousins, Brandon Manning and Sam Gagner beat Thomas Greiss — with captain Claude Giroux adding the empty-netter. “We have to keep doing what we’re doing,” Giroux said. “I think if we take care of our games, we will be in a position to make the playoffs.”