Flyers goalie Rob Zepp was pulled after he allowed four goals.
By Jack Ryan
One of the truisms of the National Hockey League is:
If you give up seven goals your chances of winning are virtually zero.
The Flyers proved that once again Monday afternoon at the Nassau Coliseum as they kept spiraling toward the cellar of the Metro Division, losing to the New York Islanders 7-4.
“The thing about our hockey club is believability and trust, accountability and leadership,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “I’ve said that from Day One. No one gave us a chance, and that’s why you play the game. I’m very pleased up until this point with our hockey club.”
The Islanders’ offense, as it has been all season, came from up and down the lineup Monday. They had six different goal scorers and five players with at least two points.
Nikolay Kulemin led the Islanders with three points on two goals, including one off a shorthanded breakaway, and an assist. Kulemin, who had three points on Oct. 25 in a 7-5 win against the Dallas Stars, has five goals in the past four games and 20 points this season.
“There’s a certain way we play, a certain structure and certain thing that we do, and I would like to think that how we play guys are going to generate if we do the right things,” Capuano said. “[Kulemin’s] done those things. His play away from the puck is dictating where his offensive game is right now.”
Michael Grabner, Nick Leddy and John Tavares each contributed a goal and an assist. Tavares scored a power-play goal with 7.6 remaining in the second period to give the Islanders a 5-2 lead.
Josh Bailey scored a goal, giving him seven points in the past three games. Anders Lee added an empty-net goal, Johnny Boychuk had two assists, and goalie Jaroslav Halak made 25 saves for his 25th win of the season.
The Islanders have 63 points and are 12-4-1 in their past 17 games. They enter the All-Star break with a 16-4-0 record at Nassau Coliseum; they were 13-19-9 at home last season. New York is 15-2-0 against the Metropolitan Division this season.
The Flyers trail the first-place Islanders by 20 points. The Flyers are 4-8-1 in their past 13 games. Not coincidentally, they have been outscored 15-4 in the first period in those 12 games and have allowed a first-period goal in 10 of them.
The Flyers have allowed a League-high 45 goals in the first period this season. The Islanders had a 2-0 lead within the first 8:06 Monday on goals by Grabner and Kulemin. Kulemin made it 3-0 with his shorthanded breakaway goal at 4:53 of the second period.
“I guess we gotta get ready before the game a little bit better, but we do a good job when they score a goal we don’t let down,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “I think we played hard [Monday], just didn’t execute the way we wanted.”
Giroux harped on mistakes costing the Flyers, some of which they made in front of their net.
Kulemin and Bailey scored on uncontested rebounds left by starting goalie Rob Zepp, who was pulled at 11:49 of the second period, when he gave up his fourth goal on 20 shots. Tavares was alone in the slot with time to make a move before scoring his power-play goal.
“We gotta do a better job in front of our goalies,” Giroux said. “Our best defense is our offense, so we have to go play offensively and keep the puck down there.”
The Islanders frustrated the Flyers all afternoon with pressure, particularly on the forecheck. The Flyers were able to generate scoring chances when they broke it, but they broke down too often once the Islanders started going the other way.
Defensive breakdowns have been a hallmark of the Flyers’ struggles this season, but Giroux said he still believes they are a good team in spite of their 18-22-7 record.
“I don’t think our record shows how good of a team we are,” Giroux said. “If we start playing like we can play we’re going to start winning games.”
Save for a hiccup in Montreal on Saturday, when the Islanders lost 6-4 and were outshot 35-31, New York has been playing the way it wants to play and is capable of playing all season.
The game against Montreal is the only one of their past 17 that the Islanders have been outshot. They outshot the Flyers 41-29, including a 20-7 in the second period.
The Flyers, though, had the deficit down to 4-2 heading into the final minute of the second period, but a hooking penalty by Jakub Voracek at 19:05 gave the Islanders a second power-play opportunity in a span of less than three minutes.
Tavares answered with his 21st goal of the season. It turned out to be the game-winner.
“We feel we’ve put ourselves in a good position to take advantage going forward,” Tavares said. “We’ve committed so much I think on both sides, physically and mentally, and you can see that game to game, how that approach has been so much stronger this year, how much stronger we are that way. You use this time [the All-Star break] to get ready for the stretch run.
“It’s important to take some time off, enjoy it, and realize we have a good opportunity going forward.”