The New York Islanders expected to face some adversity after beginning the season on a four-game winning streak, and there are few better ways to test their mettle than a long road trip.
That five-game swing against Western Conference teams begins Thursday night against a Colorado Avalanche club going through some tough times of their own.
New York (6-3-0) is off to a solid start, though it has dropped three of its last five and registered a season-worst 21 shots in Tuesday’s 4-3 home loss to Winnipeg. The Islanders erased a two-goal deficit as John Tavares and Mikhail Grabovski scored in the second period, but their offense was stagnant for most of the contest.
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”We had some pretty good chances, but when you don’t move the puck well, you don’t deserve to win,” said coach Jack Capuano, whose club plays seven of its next eight away from home. ”It’s going to be a long road trip if we don’t figure it out.”
The Islanders, who are 3-1-0 on the road, also will face San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Arizona on the trip. They’ll likely need some improvement from Jaroslav Halak, who has lost his last three starts with a 4.19 goals-against average after winning his first three with a 2.92 GAA.
Halak is 3-0-2 with a 1.55 GAA in his last five against the Avalanche.
”We lost the game (Tuesday), and bottom line is I need to do better,” Halak said.
Colorado didn’t have any complaints about Semyon Varlamov’s play Tuesday, as he made a season-high 49 saves before being beat twice in the shootout of a 3-2 loss to the Sharks.
He’s 1-0-2 with a 2.22 GAA since returning from missing three games with a groin injury.
”I felt pretty good, but we need points right now,” Varlamov said. ”Every point is very important. We want to win every game and there is frustration, but I think we played a solid game."
After surprising many by winning the Central Division last season, the Avalanche (2-4-4) have gotten off to a rough start. They’ve lost six of seven, though five defeats have come by one goal.
Coach Patrick Roy felt fortunate to come out of Tuesday’s contest with a point after his team allowed 51 shots on net.
"You never know. At the end of the year we could be very happy about that point," Roy said.
One thing is for certain – the Avalanche don’t want to rely on Varlamov to bail them out consistently. Alex Tanguay, who has four goals and two assists during a six-game point streak, netted a short-handed goal in the second before Gabriel Landeskog gave Colorado a brief lead in the third with his third goal in four games.
"Sure, it shows how good (Varlamov) is, and sure it shows how well he played, but it also showed how we left him hanging and we didn’t play well enough in front of him," Landeskog said. "That’s unacceptable and that’s something that we have to talk about and something that we have to correct."
Varlamov made 22 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Islanders on Jan. 10 before Matt Duchene scored twice and Tyson Barrie had three assists in Colorado’s 5-2 victory Feb. 8 to split last season’s series.