The New York Islanders dropped the opening game of their four-game homestand, losing 4-3 to the San Jose Sharks at Nassau Coliseum.
“We’re getting our chances,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “In the first period we had three or four grade-A chances, but we couldn’t find the back of the net. That tells me that we’re playing a certain way – and playing the right way – but we just have to find a way to get it done.”
The Islanders outshot the Sharks 6-1 out of the gate and applied pressure during some extended zone time, but could not solve goaltender Antti Niemi. The momentum shifted in the last eight minutes of the period and the Sharks took a 2-0 lead – on goals by Matthew Nieto and Jason Demers – into the first intermission.
“I thought we came out, played well and dominated the first 10 minutes,” said Okposo. “Then we sat back a bit and had some breakdowns. For the most part I thought we played a strong hockey game tonight and a couple of mistakes in the defensive zone cost us.”
The Islanders responded immediately in the second period, as Lee scored 32 seconds into the middle frame. Lee, who was playing on the top line with Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen, snuck a backhander under the arm of Niemi for his sixth goal in eight games.
“Lee is big and strong and wins a lot of wall battles,” Nielsen said of Lee. “He’s really fun to play with because if you lose the puck he’s right there and gets it right back. He competes really hard.”
Joe Thornton restored the Sharks two-goal lead nine minutes later, potting a Brent Burns rebound past former Shark Evgeni Nabokov. The Islanders goaltender played in San Jose for 10 seasons from 2000-2010 and was facing his former-team for the first time.
“They are not an easy team to play against,” Nabokov said. “They are big, they are experience, but I thought we were right there with them.”
Nielsen scored his 21st of the season with 22 seconds to play in regulation and an extra attacker on the ice, but the Islanders were unable to pull off the comeback in the dying moments of the game. Still, veterans like Nielsen were impressed with the Islanders effort, especially with eight rookies in the lineup.
“I liked the way we competed with the young team we have here right now,” Nielsen. “We showed how much talent we have in this organization.”
The Islanders retake the Coliseum ice Saturday night, as they host the Buffalo Sabres in the second game of the homestand. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.
NOTES: Johan Sundstrom made his NHL debut, skating 10:28 on a line with Mike Halmo and Casey Cizikas… Michael Grabner missed the game with a concussion and was ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Sabres... Travis Hamonic led the Islanders with 23:36 TOI… Matt Donovan took the game’s only penalty, a tripping minor in the third period… Frans Nielsen had a team-high eight shots.