Anders Lee scored twice, but the individual effort was overshadowed by the Islanders 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum.
Lee rewarded Head Coach Jack Capuano for the top-line promotion, but the rookie’s two-goal effort was equaled by Florida’s Jimmy Hayes, who scored the game-winner 2:10 into the third period, as the Islanders dropped their third straight.
“I was able to get a couple to go tonight off some great feeds by my teammates,” Lee said. “I benefitted from that, but we are in the locker room right now with a loss, so it’s pretty bitter.”
The Islanders new-look top line clicked instantly, as Lee needed one shift first playing alongside John Tavares and Josh Bailey to hit pay dirt. Tavares entered the zone, sent a cross-ice pass to Bailey before Lee completed the tic-tac-toe play on the doorstep, one-timing Bailey’s return feed past Al Montoya.
The Panthers answered the Islanders early strike 3:04 later, as Hayes redirected a Nick Bjugstad pass by Jaroslav Halak. The play started out innocently, as Bjugstad skated towards the half wall, before spinning and sending a blind feed into the slot, as Hayes deflected in his 14th of the season, tying the score.
“They responded and we didn’t match that,” Tavares said. “I think at periods we did, but they got the lead and did a good job of not giving much.”
Erik Gudbranson put Florida ahead 10:15 into the second period, as the Panthers defenseman joined the rush, taking a Tomas Fleischmann pass in full stride and sneaking a backhand through Halak on the short side.
This time the Islanders answered quickly, trying the game with a power-play goal 2:30 later. Lee parked himself in the slot and redirected a Travis Hamonic slap pass by Montoya. The Islanders power play finished one-for-three.
Hayes scored the eventual winner early in the third period, knocking in a Bjugstad rebound on the power play. The Islanders’ penalty kill finished one-for-two on the night.
“It’s no secret, special teams are killing us right now,” Tavares said. “We have to be better in those areas. They were able to get pucks out on us and we weren’t able to hem them in, especially a team playing on back-to-back nights.”
The Islanders had a chance to tie the game on a later power play. Brandon Pirri scored an empty-netter with 23 seconds to play, icing the game.
“We have to find a way to score,” Capuano said. “I thought [Montoya] made some big saves when he had to and at the end of the day we didn’t do enough here tonight to win.”
Montoya made 32 saves in the win, while Halak made 26 saves in the loss.
The Islanders set out on a three-game road trip, beginning Thursday night in Philadelphia. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.