Panthers-Islanders Preview

The New York Islanders are the worst home team in the NHL, and

their recent issues in the third period aren’t doing them any

favors.

The Islanders will try address those concerns and conclude an

unpleasant four-game homestand on a positive note Sunday against

the league-worst Florida Panthers.

New York (13-15-3) is three points behind the New York Rangers

and Carolina, who are tied for the eighth and final playoff

position in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s crunch time every game,” goaltender Evgeni Nabokov said.

“We’re still not far from the pack.”

The Islanders could be in much better shape, however, if not for

a 5-11-2 record at Nassau Coliseum. Those struggles have continued

with three straight regulation losses to begin this homestand, in

which New York has been outscored 9-0 in the third period.

The skid followed a 4-3 win at Florida (9-17-6) on March 16,

when Casey Cizikas scored the go-ahead goal after the Panthers tied

it by netting three in a row in a 1:43 span early in the third.

New York has led or been tied in the third period in 25 of its

31 games, but has won only 13. The Isles entered the third tied

Friday, but fell 4-2 to Pittsburgh.

“The third period has been our Achilles heel,” center John

Tavares said. “We can’t seem to hold onto a lead or break through

in the third.

“We can’t afford not getting points. We have to push ourselves

better. Our confidence isn’t bad, but we are making mistakes at the

wrong times.”

Tavares is among the NHL scoring leaders with 18 goals and 33

points, but he’s a minus-10. He’s often struggled against Florida,

mustering merely one assist in six home meetings, with the

Islanders losing four.

Nabokov is expected to be back in net after stopping 21 of 24

shots against the Penguins. He was pulled from his only start

against the Panthers on Long Island, surrendering four goals on 15

shots through two periods of a 4-1 defeat on Feb. 12, 2012.

Nabokov had 27 saves at Florida last week.

The Panthers are finishing a swing through the New York area as

part of a season-high five-game road trip. They’re 2-1-0 on the

overall jaunt after falling 2-1 at New Jersey on Saturday, two days

after beating the Rangers 3-1.

“As of late, we’re playing pretty good,” said Scott Clemmensen,

who made 23 saves against the Devils. “As a result, we’re in every

game and that gives us a chance to win.

“It’s tough to win on the road. We played a pretty good hockey

game, but it was tough to lose.”

Clemmensen, who has lost five straight decisions, was in net

against the Islanders last week, but he may return to the bench in

favor of Jacob Markstrom, who has won his last two starts while

allowing two goals on 79 shots.

Tomas Kopecky is tied with rookie Jonathan Huberdeau for the

team lead with 12 goals and 20 points. Kopecky has six points in

his past eight games, getting an assist against New York last

weekend.

He has no points in three visits to Long Island.