The Islanders have been as hot as anyone in the NHL, but their recent stretch hasn’t been filled with dominating performances and wins by wide margins.
After five straight overtime games (three of those going to a shootout), the Isles frankly needed one of those start-to-finish nights. They got one on Sunday at Barclays Center.
Buoyed by a pair of goals from Marek Zidlicky and 27 saves from Thomas Greiss, the Islanders were commanding in a 4-0 win over the Devils that vaulted them over the Rangers into second place in the Metro Division.
“We’ve played a lot of tight games and I thought we really had our legs early,” said John Tavares, who snapped a four-game pointless streak with his 13th of the season to extend the Isles lead to 2-0 in the first. “I thought we were a little sluggish [Saturday] after a few days off, but tonight we came out playing hard and we kept it going.”
To get to a 10th straight game with at least a point and get to 8-0-2 over that stretch, the Islanders needed some offense from their defensemen. Zidlicky, the 38-year-old former Devil, was an unlikely source; he was a healthy scratch in Columbus on Saturday to keep him fresh.
But it was his blast from the point that beat Cory Schneider just as an Islander power play expired that opened the scoring at 7:42 of the first. And it was another slapper with 42.5 seconds left in the second that expanded the lead to 4-0, sandwiched around Tavares’ goal and Matt Martin’s deflection at 7:28 of the second that sent Schneider to the bench in favor of Keith Kinkaid.
“Some games we’re scoring one or two goals, it’s tough to get more,” Zidlicky said. “We controlled the puck most of this game and that was a good thing.”
Zidlicky’s pair of goals gave the Isles 10 goals from their defensemen through 31 games. Last season, the Isles’ D-men had 10 goals by the 15th game, a big reason for the flying start to the 2014-15 campaign.
The Isles did not come flying out of the gate this year, but they are right back near the top of the Metro, elbowing with the Rangers and Caps for divisional supremacy.
The Rangers held an 11-point margin over the Isles on Nov. 24. In less than three weeks, the Isles have overtaken their slumping rivals from Manhattan, not having lost a game in regulation since then.
“You look at where we started last year and where we ended up, it’s amazing. Every point is so important,” Tavares said. “We’re on a pretty good roll here but it’s one game at a time.”
Greiss was sharp in earning his first shutout with the Islanders, his best work coming during a short stretch of the second period after the Devils switched goaltenders.
But a strong shift from Mikhail Grabovski’s line generated chances in the final minute of the period before Zidlicky’s slapper beat Kinkaid low to the stick side. After having lost the lead in the third period in the three previous games, the Islanders were still strong in Sunday’s third period, boosted by a four-goal cushion.
“We managed the puck,” Jack Capuano said. “We’ve talked about that quite a bit the last couple games, and it’s something we have to continue to do. We’ve been finding ways, even when we’re up and we give it back or when we’re down two and come back. We find ways.”