UNIONDALE, N.Y. – New Islanders coach Jack Capuano changed the message, he just couldn’t alter the outcome.
Capuano made his NHL coaching debut behind the New York bench on Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, hoping to snap the club out of the funk that cost Scott Gordon his job.
While the effort was the good, the result was the same. The Islanders fell 4-2 to the Lightning and absorbed their 11th straight defeat. It is New York’s worst rut since they dropped the final 11 games under former coach and general manager Mike Milbury in the 1998-99 season.
“We did a good job in a lot of areas,” said Capuano, promoted on an interim basis from Bridgeport of the AHL on Monday. “I just wanted them to be loose and have a little bit of fun. They have been through a lot, and I think it grows on you mentally.”
Steven Stamkos scored his NHL-leading 16th goal and added an assist to wreck Capuano’s first night.
The Islanders (4-11-3) returned home from a three-game California trip that produced only one point and had their skid extended to 0-10-1. New York, which got goals from Matt Moulson and John Tavares, hasn’t won since beating Tampa Bay on the road on Oct. 21—a 3-2 overtime victory. The Islanders have a league-low 11 points.
“I felt a lot more comfortable out there,” forward P.A. Parenteau said. “When a coach tells you to go out there and play and have fun, you don’t think as much, you’re not worried as much. I think it helps, but we didn’t come up with a win. We’re going to have to find ways to make that happen soon.”
New York nearly tied it with 4:23 left, but Dan Ellis went down to deny Blake Comeau’s in-close chance with his pad. Comeau went back to the bench after his shift and smacked his stick against the boards.
Martin St. Louis sealed the victory with 1:29 left, one-timing a circle-to-circle pass from Steve Downie into the open right side of the net. Tampa Bay needed that one because Tavares brought the Islanders within a goal again with 1:08 to go.
But the lead grew to 4-2 with 15.5 seconds remaining when former Islanders forward Nate Thompson scored into an empty net.
“We were opportunistic, but we had a lot of chances where we weren’t opportunistic,” St. Louis said of the Lightning, who had 40 shots.
Stamkos staked the Lightning to a 1-0 advantage with his league-leading eighth power-play goal, scored with only 0.3 seconds left in the first period. The green light lit and the horn signalling the end of the frame blared, but a video review showed that Stamkos’ shot hit the net in the nick of time.
“We knew the situation, and it was unfortunate they got a break like that,” Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson said. “When things are going bad, those things are going to happen. You’ve got to forget about it, and that’s what we did. We went out and played.”
Stamkos, who has 30 points in 18 games this season, also assisted on defenceman Brett Clark’s power-play goal in the second. That was enough to help the Lightning break a three-game losing streak and give them their second win in seven contests.
“We played with a lot of desperation,” Stamkos said.
Ellis started in the Lightning net for the fourth time in five games and made 34 saves for his fifth win. Tampa Bay had lost five straight on the road (0-4-1) but began a three-game trip on a high note.
“It’s huge for us to get a win on the first game of a road trip,” Ellis said.
Capuano was 6-10 at Bridgeport before the callup to replace Gordon, who was early into his third season behind the Islanders bench. New York played at home for just the second time in eight games and sixth in 18 overall this season.
But their offence continued to struggle.The Islanders have led only once during the losing streak and have scored two goals or fewer nine straight times. Roloson started over franchise goalie Rick DiPietro for the sixth consecutive game and kept New York in this one by making 36 saves. He stopped 18 shots in the first period and 31 through two.
Stamkos beat the clock at the end of the first when a rebound popped to him near the left post and he smacked the puck past Roloson while Josh Bailey served a slashing penalty.
After New York forward Trent Hunter was called for boarding against Johan Harju in the second, the Lightning made the Islanders pay again. St. Louis fired a shot that Clark deflected in the slot for his third goal with 7:11 remaining in the period.
Moulson cut the Islanders’ deficit in half, scoring his seventh of the season with 2:34 left in the second.
NOTES: New York fell to 6-10-2 in its first game under a new coach. … The Lightning won for the first time since captain Vincent Lecavalier broke his right hand last Thursday at Washington. He had surgery on Monday and is expected to miss four to five weeks. … Tampa Bay scored only one goal in each of the previous two games and 13 in their 1-5-1 skid. … The Lightning have recorded 20 shots in a period twice this season. … The Islanders were 0-for-4 on the power play, including one with 9:09 left.