Slumping Islanders hit California for three game road trip

Jaroslav Halak and Johnny Boychuk can't look after Brad Marchand scores the winner in a Bruins 2-1 win over the Islanders. AP Photo by Kathy Kmonicek/Getty Images

Jaroslav Halak and Johnny Boychuk can’t look after Brad Marchand scores the winner in a Bruins 2-1 win over the Islanders.
AP Photo by Kathy Kmonicek/Getty Images

After dropping a 2-1 decision to the Bruins Sunday at Barclays Center, the Islanders have dropped five of their last six. In all six, they have scored two goals-or-fewer. They’ll have to muster more offense when they hit California for a three-game road trip beginning Tuesday in San Jose. It’s a tough three games over four days with stops at Los Angeles and Anaheim Thursday and Friday.

In their first season relocated to Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue, goals weren’t supposed to be hard to come by. Franchise center John Tavares got off to a blistering start with 11 points (4-7-11) in the first six games leading the Islanders to a 5-1-0 record. But a mystery illness kept Tavares out of of three games between Halloween and Nov. 3. The team went 1-1-1 splitting a home-and-home with the Devils while losing to the Sabres in between.

Tavares returned for Montreal with some bad luck leading to a 4-1 loss. They followed it up with only a Johnny Boychuk third period goal in a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Boston. Thus far, the Islanders captain and Kyle Okposo are tied for the club lead in scoring with 11 points. One ahead of Frans Nielsen. Boychuk, Nikolay Kulemin and Anders Lee each have seven. The trouble is after the trio of Tavares, Okposo and Nielsen who have combined for 14 goals, no one has over three.

Ryan Strome was expected to do big things this season. Instead, a poor start caused Islanders coach Jack Capuano to send him down to Bridgeport. A strange decision that was mutual with Strome admitting he needed a kick in the ass. The 22-year old Strome was coming off a breakout year in which he posted career bests with 17 goals, 33 assists and 50 points with a plus-23 rating in 81 contests last season. In his first dozen games, he had only one goal and four helpers with 18 shots-on-goal. He missed two games with an illness. But the lack of production was alarming. He needs to regain his confidence.

Strome isn’t the only young player under performing. Brock Nelson has three goals and three assists so far. In the first year of a new contract, he must be more consistent. Meanwhile, second-year forward Anders Lee also has a similar line of 3-4-7 with a team worst minus-six rating. This is the same young core that were key contributors last year.

Mikhail Grabovski has only five points. Josh Bailey has six which is about right for a third line forward who is a strong penalty killer. Defenseman Nick Leddy is off to a slow start with no goals and four assists. One less goal and point than Marek Zidlicky. Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin remain an effective fourth line that contributes while being tough to play against.

They’re getting good goaltending from Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Halak has four wins in eight starts with a 1.87 goals-against-average and two shutouts. Greiss is 3-1-0 with a 2.45 GAA and .924 save percentage. Each netminder has done the job keeping their team in games.

Due to the recent slump, the Isles find themselves fifth in the Metropolitan Division with a 7-5-3 record. They have 17 points which is tied with the surprising Devils who won again Sunday in overtime over Vancouver. New Jersey has played one less game. So they’re fourth. Unlike the Isles, they’re getting maximum effort from key cogs Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac and Mike Cammalleri. Even Lee Stempniak is scoring and setting up big goals.

For the Islanders to turn it around, it starts with Tavares who’s one of the top players in the game. They follow his lead. He is the emotional leader. Playing the Sharks, Kings and Ducks out West will be a challenge. But maybe it’s for the best. The Isles need that extra spark. This could be it.

Isles recall D prospect Pelech: With the team struggling, the Islanders recalled defense prospect Adam Pelech. A former 2012 third round pick, Pelech had four points (2-2-4 with the Sound Tigers and a plus-nine rating. He will join the team in San Jose and could get his first chance in place of defenseman Brian Strait.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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