Islanders struggling to score during rough start to season
NEW YORK (AP) Coming off two 100-point seasons and their best playoff run in 23 years, the New York began this season with high hopes. Things haven't been working out so well.
Sixteen games into the season - about one-fifth of the way through - the Islanders are having trouble scoring goals and the losses are piling up.
With just one win in the last seven games (1-3-3), they are in last place in the Eastern Conference and their 40 goals ranks just above the bottom one-third in the conference and the league overall.
''I have not found the combinations to give us some offense,'' coach Jack Capuano said after the team was shut out for the first time this season Monday night. ''It's on me to find guys to play with certain guys. Our guys are well prepared for games. We have to be able to find some offense.''
The Islanders were booed through much of their latest loss - 4-0 to Tampa Bay - by the home fans looking for another strong season after finally reaching the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1993 .
''I understand the frustration of the fans and frustration of the players,'' Capuano said. ''but for me, as a coach, I'm behind these guys. I want them to succeed.''
Two months after their postseason ended last spring, the Islanders lost long-time stars Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin on the first day of free agency , and replaced them with Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera. The departed trio combined for 52 goals and 83 assists last season, while the two newcomers have totaled three goals and five assists so far.
Capuano has shuffled the lines all season, searching for the right combinations - especially for captain John Tavares, who spent most of the latter part of last season on the top line with Okposo and Nielsen. Ladd and Chimera began the season with Tavares. Chimera was then replaced by Josh Bailey. Ladd was then dropped down, with Shane Prince initially taking his place, but Cal Clutterbuck has been moved up there the last five games. The changes have rippled on the other lines as well.
Tavares is still confident the team can turn things around.
''How many games do we got left,'' he said. ''You just keep going, keep working. You find your way out of it. Obviously we don't want to be in the spot that we're in, but we're not going to quit. We just got to stay positive and stay together. ''
There'a plenty of time for improvement with 66 games remaining, but it needs to start soon. The Islanders are seven points out of a playoff spot, but would need to jump over eight teams just to get in the East's second wild-card spot.
''Obviously it feels like everything is against us right now,'' Tavares said. ''There's a long way to go at this point in the year. ... All you can do is work to sway the momentum, get some good results and try to build some momentum off that and build confidence.''
A strong home team the last two years, the Islanders had a chance to get off to a good start with their next game - on Friday night against defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh - being their 12th out of the first 17 at Barclays Center. The Islanders head into that 5-4-2 on home ice. That will be followed by a three-game trip to California next week with the team still looking for its first road win after going 0-4-1 in the first five.
''We have to get back practicing hard, get ready to go, obviously a big game Friday night and a big road trip,'' defenseman Travis Hamonic said. ''We just have to keep pushing forward. No one's feeling sorry for us.''
The poor start has put Capuano on the hot seat and with the coach repeatedly taking the blame for the team's scoring troubles, the pressure will likely only build.
''I can only control what I can control,'' Capuano said when asked if he was concerned whether general manager Garth Snow might consider a coaching change. ''That's not my decision. I come to the rink every day like everybody else and work extremely hard. ... As I've said, we have to find a way - and it falls on me - to try to get some offense out of this team.''
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