As the Dec. 27 matchup against the Providence Bruins approached, the Bridgeport Islanders carried a promising three-game point streak. With the team showing signs of progress, anticipation grew for a victorious return from the holiday break, especially on their home turf.
In a gripping, see-saw battle that saw ties after the first and second periods, the Islanders ultimately succumbed 5-4 in a game that slipped from their grasp during the final period.
This defeat nudges the Islanders’ season record to 8-17-2, firmly anchoring them at the bottom of the Atlantic Division. Their persistent challenges predominantly stem from defensive lapses and ongoing struggles in goalkeeping.
The Bruins aimed just 25 shots at the net, and the defense stood firm, restricting the opposition to challenging angles and scarce follow-up chances. Yet, Islanders’ goalie Jakub Skarek faced a challenging evening, conceding goals on a few shots he’d surely wish to revisit.
Allowing five goals, Skarek has conceded nine in his past two starts, including four in the recent 4-3 overtime loss to the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Following the fifth goal, Skarek was replaced by Ken Appleby, marking a stark conclusion to a challenging evening and reflective of the ongoing struggles throughout this season.
Entering the season with aspirations of progression and establishing himself in the American Hockey League (AHL), aiming for a potential leap to the NHL, Skarek’s current .881 save percentage (SV%) and 3.38 goals-against average (GAA) suggest a likelihood of continued shared starts with Appleby in the foreseeable future.
The standout moment of the evening it arrived courtesy of Karson Kuhlman, who briefly propelled the Islanders into a 2-1 lead. Charging up the ice precisely, he deftly maneuvered past the Bruins’ defense, executing a swift backhand shot that found the back of the net.
As the lone skater in the offensive zone, his decisive shot teetered between a turnover or a goal. Opting for the perfect corner, Kuhlman capped off a highlight-worthy play, sparking a second period that witnessed a flurry of four goals.
Kuhlman’s goal marked his sixth this season, putting him in a tie with Otto Koivala for the second-highest goal scorer on the team. The Islanders’ offense has struggled, averaging 2.35 goals per game this season.
Nonetheless, players like Kuhlman possess the potential to revitalize the offense. Alongside another versatile player, they contributed significantly to the team’s recent four-goal performance, hinting at their capacity to spark a turnaround in scoring fortunes.
Trailing 5-3 with just three minutes left on the clock, the Islanders opted for an empty net strategy to extend their streak of earning points.
Defenseman Robin Salo continued a recurring offensive tactic by launching the puck toward the net, mirroring a theme that persisted throughout the game.
Earlier in the second period, Dennis Cholowski had scored by firing the puck from the point and securing a goal. With the game hanging in the balance, Salo navigated the puck through a crowded defensive zone, finding the net and narrowing the deficit to a lone goal.
The goal, albeit late, couldn’t salvage the game for the Islanders despite their sustained pressure post-scoring, resulting in a narrow loss.
Nonetheless, the goal marked a shining moment for Salo, who now boasts four goals and 10 points this season, breaking a scoring drought since his overtime heroics in the Dec. 16 4-3 victory against the Charlotte Checkers.
While no longer the once-touted young prospect at 25, Salo remains a stalwart as one of the Islanders’ premier two-way players. He stands ready to step into the NHL and cover for an injured defenseman if required.
In the first period, Ruslan Iskhakov played a pivotal role, assisting Brian Pinho’s goal. This marked Iskhakov’s 13th assist of the season, leading the team, along with his 21st point, making him the top scorer for the Islanders (he’s also the team’s leading goal scorer with eight goals, highlighting his importance in an otherwise struggling offense).
During the Nov. 19 encounter, Bruins’ goaltender Brandon Bussi had a tough time in the visitors’ net, conceding three goals in a 3-1 defeat against the Islanders. However, in the recent game, Bussi showcased a remarkable performance, making 33 saves and steering the Bruins to victory.
Next, the Islanders will hit the road for a Dec. 29 face-off against the Springfield Thunderbirds. In their previous meeting, the game stretched to overtime, and the Islanders are eager to rebound, eyeing their third victory of the season against this divisional opponent.
Presently situated at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, the Islanders’ recent loss has deepened their struggle. With three months left in the season, their chances for a playoff spot are dwindling, painting a challenging picture for the AHL team.