DALLAS — It does not seem all that hard to predict what the emphasis for the Islanders will be on Saturday night against the Stars: Come out hard.
The Islanders have given up the first goal in 12 of their first 18 games this season, and their play in the first 20 minutes in Nashville on Thursday unequivocally cost them two points in a 5-4 loss to the Predators. They fell behind 3-1 in the opening period after being out-chanced 14-2 at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick.
“We just gotta focus on getting good starts,” Casey Cizikas said. “When you come into a building on the road, they’re gonna come out hot and we just gotta match that intensity. Make plays that are needed when we have the puck on our stick. Can’t be turning it oer, giving that team momentum cause you know they’re gonna come out hard.”
The good news for the Islanders is that they continued to show they can beat anyone at their best. That 14-2 chance margin? It was 14-0 in favor of the Islanders in the third period at five-on-five, when only a power-play goal from Juuso Parssinen kept Nashville from giving up the lead.
That’s what has kept the slow starts from taking a serious bite out of the Islanders’ record. Afterr the loss to the Predators, coach Lane Lambert refused to call those starts a trend, while simultaneously admitting “it’s happened” with regularity.
Conversely, they have gathered momentum as games go on and have outscored opponents, 30-16, in third periods.
Still, putting together an effort for 60 minutes is necessary to win games consistently in the NHL, and it is the next step for the Islanders.
“Execution, playing quick, little indecision whether it’s coming out of our zone, getting pucks in, getting on the forecheck,” Kyle Palmieri said when asked about commonalities in the team’s first periods. “I think when we establish the forecheck, it gets all of us into it. It gets our D-men moving and it’s not playing in your own end, which is never fun and no one likes to do.”
The forecheck and the speed at which the Islanders made decisions with the puck were a major difference from the first part of the game against Nashville to the second part. So, too, was their defensive zone structure.
Why it took more than 20 minutes of play for the Islanders to find those pivotal parts of their game, though, was a question to which Lambert had no answer.
“We weren’t sharp out of the gate,” he said. “If I had the answer, I’d let you know. We have to be better, that’s all there is to it, at the start of a game.”
Mathew Barzal has 19 assists without a goal. The all-time record for a forward is held by Alex Delvecchio, who assisted 22 before scoring in 1969-70.
The Islanders had Friday off.