GLENDALE, Ariz. - The Islanders head home Sunday with a lot going for them. Three straight wins to cap a five-game Western Conference swing top that list.
Frans Nielsen's goal with 2:31 to play broke a scoreless tie and the Islanders killed off a Coyotes power play without allowing a shot in the final 1:37 to preserve a 1-0 win Saturday night. A trip that began with an ugly loss in Denver ended on a high note with a third consecutive one-goal victory -- including one in overtime and one in a shootout.
"We knew we were close the first couple games [of the trip] but we didn't get the results," said John Tavares, who had seven of the Islanders' 32 shots on Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith. "We tightened things up defensively. We're pleased with what we've done, but you don't want to be satisfied. We're headed home and we want to keep this going there."
Jaroslav Halak made only 19 saves for his first Islanders shutout, but his teammates had plenty to do with that, blocking 16 Coyotes attempts.
Playing without defensive anchor Johnny Boychuk, who will be evaluated Sunday for a possible knee injury, the Islanders were strong in their own end. They were especially good on the penalty kill, which had been hovering at a dismal 62.5 percent success rate before going 9-for-9 the last two games, including 5-for-5 Saturday night.
The last one was the biggest. Brian Strait, back in the lineup in Boychuk's spot, took out Shane Doan's skates on a rush with 1:37 to go. Arizona pulled Smith and set up a six-on-four attack.
But the Islanders stayed aggressive. Brock Nelson and Calvin de Haan tied up pucks along the wall to eat up precious seconds and the Isles got two big clears to wind the clock down.
"If there were bobbled pucks, I wanted them to pressure, and they did a great job of that," Jack Capuano said.
The Coyotes got off only eight shots on Halak at even strength.
Smith, who made 38 saves a night earlier in a shootout win over the Ducks, was up to the task again. He made Tavares look to the rafters after giving him nothing to shoot at from 15 feet out inside of eight minutes to go.
"I thought he kept them in the game," said Tavares, who had 12 shot attempts. "We had a lot of chances. We knew they played last night so we just tried to wear them out."
That might have played a part in the game's only goal. Thomas Hickey headmanned the puck to Mikhail Grabovski, who lost it off his stick into the Coyotes' zone but still beat defenseman Brandon Gormley to it and circled the Arizona net. The Coyotes were scrambling into position and Grabovski slid the puck to Nielsen, whose shot handcuffed Smith and fluttered behind him.
"I like the way we figured out it doesn't have to be pretty, especially on the road," Nielsen said. "Get pucks down deep, grind them down. If we have to take it to OT, a shootout, we'll do that. Just make it so they have to work for everything."
The Islanders are working too, having allowed three goals in the three victories after giving up at least three in all but one of their first 11 games.
"We haven't made too many mistakes," Nielsen said. "We're not giving anything away for free."