Ugly first period dooms fading Islanders


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A miserable first period was highlighted by two Gordie Howe hat tricks including one by Flyers power forward Wayne Simmonds, who beat Anders Lee in what amounted to another costly loss for the Islanders. AP Photo via Getty Images

They had played so well since interim coach Doug Weight took over. It looked like the Islanders would make the playoffs for a second consecutive year, rallying around Weight. Since beating the Rangers and Penguins last week, it’s been a nightmare. An ugly first period in a must win game against the Flyers resulted in a third consecutive loss by a count of 6-3 in the City of Brotherly Love.

Home defeats to competitor Boston (2-1) and the out of conference Predators (3-1) put them in this precarious position. Not long ago, the Islanders controlled their own destiny. But costly losses on home ice (0-4-1) since returning from a successful nine-game road trip in which they went 5-3-1 have put them on the ledge. With six games remaining, they now find themselves six behind the Bruins for the second wildcard. In the mean time, the red hot Canes and Lightning have passed them. Both winners to stay within striking distance.

Combined with only scoring two goals in six periods at Barclays Center, a mind boggling first really hurt the Isles. For some reason, they weren’t ready to play. Facing a team they last handled in the same building over a month ago, they allowed five goals to the Flyers in the opening 20 minutes. It was so bad, both Dale Weise and Wayne Simmonds each recorded Gordie Howe hat tricks in the same period. That hadn’t happened since 1985. In fact, Weise’s Gordie Howe hat trick was the fastest ever recorded. He scored, assisted and fought in the first 8:28.

Goals from Weise, Sean Couturier and Radko Gudas chased Islanders starter Thomas Greiss. He was faultless after allowing three goals on eight shots. Next, Travis Hamonic tried to provide a spark by taking on Weise. It was a gutsy move by the defenseman who’s had a tough season. But it didn’t work.

Instead, Jordan Weal rudely greeted Jaroslav Halak by finishing in front on a pass from Simmonds when he was left wide open. Weal literally had all day to stand unguarded before staying hot with his seventh from Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula. The goal came less than a minute after Hamonic’s fight.

It got even worse when Simmonds had a Shayne Gostisbehere shot go off him and Johnny Boychuk for an odd goal which gave the gritty power forward 30 for the season. The goal was so weird, a clearly in pain Simmonds couldn’t even celebrate with teammates. But a few minutes later, he was okay to throw down with Anders Lee in an entertaining scrap he won with seven seconds remaining in the period.

Predictably, the Flyers sat back while the Islanders fought hard. They out-shot the Flyers 22-3 in a lopsided second spent almost exclusively in the Philadelphia zone. It was about as dominant as you can get. But the Isles were only able to get one goal with Cal Clutterbuck providing it on a feed from Stephen Gionta. They weren’t closer due to Steve Mason, who finished with 38 saves.

Goals from Jason Chimera (18th) and Andrew Ladd (21st with 3:58 left) in the third made it interesting. But it wasn’t enough. Filpulla scored into a vacated net with 1:41 remaining from Simmonds- giving him a Gordie Howe hat trick and another assist. The Flyers’ best player by far. Don’t believe me? Go look at Claude Giroux or Jakob Voracek in the second half.  Talk about overpaid. If the Flyers do make a change, they should look to dump one or both those contracts. Good luck. This also happened:

Philly actually tied the Islanders in points with 82. The Isles remain ahead by virtue of one extra game remaining and three more ROW. None of that matters for either unless they basically run the table and get lots of help. It will take a miracle for the Islanders to make it.

The Islanders remaining six games:

Fri 3/31 Devils

Sun 4/2 vs Sabres

Tue 4/4 vs Predators

Thu 4/6 vs Hurricanes

Sat 4/8 vs Devils

Sun 4/9 Senators

Notes: In a what the heck does it even matter stat, the Isles out-attempted the Flyers 80-46. … Flyers blocked 27 shots with four each from Brandon Manning and Ivan Provorov. The Isles only blocked 12. … John Tavares had no points and went minus-two with three shots, five attempts in 29 shifts (21:17). The Islanders captain has no points in the last two with a minus-four. Ugly. … In relief Halak stopped 19 of 21. His second appearance since returning on loan from Bridgeport. He had a feel good shootout win at Pittsburgh last Friday. Had they recalled him sooner, maybe the Isles are higher in the standings.

Gif of Game: Simmonds not celebrating with teammates after the odd goal that hit him:

Hamonic challenges and takes on Weise:

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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