When Anders Lee’s tip rolled down Kari Lehtonen’s back and through the crease, the New York Islanders could probably sense that it just wasn’t going to be their night offensively.
The close call was a sign of things to come, as the Islanders fell 3-0 to the Dallas Stars on Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
“We were moving our feet and were tenacious and I felt we did a pretty good job for most of the night, but just couldn’t buy one,” Kyle Okposo said.
The Islanders (38-23-9) brought their legs in what was a fast-paced game, but couldn’t muster a goal on Lehtonen, who made 27 saves for the shutout – Dallas’ first against the Isles. The loss was the Islanders second straight in regulation and third overall on their current trip (0-2-1).
“Things haven’t been going that well here for a little while,” Okposo said. “Tonight I thought we got back to our game and played a pretty good hockey game. We weren’t able to get it done offensively. We have to put it behind us and move on.”
The Stars had their offense on Saturday night, despite not having all-star center Tyler Seguin. Dallas peppered Thomas Greiss (33 saves) for 35 shots, while Cody Eakin, Patrick Eaves and Ales Hemsky found the back of the net.
The loss – combined with a Pittsburgh win Saturday afternoon – dropped the Islanders from third in the Metropolitan Division to the first Wild Card berth in the Eastern Conference.
“What we’re going through right now is a little bit of adversity and what that does is challenge your confidence,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “We’re just not putting the puck in the net, but you just have to stay with it, you have to continue to work.”
“It’s frustrating because I thought the guys played hard tonight,” Capuano added. “They deserved better.”
After a series of sluggish starts, the Islanders looked fast out of the gate Saturday, keeping pace with a high-flying Stars team from the opening draw.
“We were moving our feet and were tenacious and I felt we did a pretty good job for most of the night, but just couldn’t buy one,” Okposo said.
The breakneck pace characterized the first period, as did superb goaltending. Greiss and Lehtonen went save-for-save in the opening frame, Greiss stopping an early breakaway from Antoine Roussel, while Lehtonen denied Brock Nelson’s snap shot from the slot.
Both goalies stayed sharp in the second as well, keeping the game scoreless past the midway point of the game. The Islanders nearly drew first blood, as Anders Lee’s tip caught Lehtonen up high, before the puck rolled off his shoulder, through the crease and narrowly missed.
Dallas opened the scoring shortly after, as Eakin kept and shot on a two-on-one rush with Jamie Benn, beating Greiss with a shot off the far post and in.
The Islanders pressed in the third period, but it was Dallas who took advantage of the game opening up. Eaves pick-pocketed Frans Nielsen at the Stars’ blueline and was off to the races, corralling his own rebound off Greiss’ pad before roofing the rebound.
Capuano pulled Greiss with four minutes to play, allowing Hemsky to score a long-range empty netter with 2:54 to play.
After playing 12 of their last 14 games on the road, the Islanders return home for six of their next eight games, beginning on Monday night against Philadelphia.
“We have a tough road ahead of us, but it’ll be nice to come home,” Nielsen said.