PHILADELPHIA -- Another night, another defenseman lost to injury during a game.
Luckily for the Islanders, this was not just another night for Evgeni Nabokov. The goaltender was in superb form Tuesday night, stopping all 45 shots he faced from the energized Flyers through three periods and overtime, then two more in the shootout to give the Isles two points in a 1-0 victory.
"Anytime you get goaltending like that, you're usually going to win a game, and we did," Jack Capuano said. "He made some huge saves for us."
In recording his 50th shutout -- and getting the Islanders to .500 and within nine points of eighth-place Ottawa with four games in hand -- Nabokov was working with a makeshift defense even before Dylan Reese left the game with what appears to be a serious left knee injury.
With Travis Hamonic (broken nose/facial laceration) and Milan Jurcina (lacerated elbow) sidelined, 21-year-old Aaron Ness was up from Bridgeport to make his NHL debut against the rugged Flyers. That already meant some juggling among the defensemen and a need to play a simple game.
They did that, sort of. The Flyers did not get many second-chance opportunities, but that was mostly because they were pumping so many good first-chance shots at net. Nabokov made 31 saves during the second and third periods, with his best a quick-pad stop on Jaromir Jagr with the teams playing four-on-four late in the second.
"We stuck with the system and the boys were working their butts off," said Nabokov, who has a 2.21 goals-against average. "We were down to five D again, and the guys controlled their forwards and our forwards collapsed when they had to."
The Isles had only 18 shots on Ilya Bryzgalov, including a couple of golden chances for Josh Bailey in OT, but the shootout was a different story. Frans Nielsen scored on the first attempt for either side and then Nabokov stretched his pad to pin Danny Briere's shot to the left post.
John Tavares beat Bryzgalov, and Nabokov coolly turned aside Wayne Simmonds' try to give the Isles a second win here in less than a month after not winning here since 2007. This one was far more improbable, given the depleted defense.
"That win last time was a real mental hurdle we got over," said Andrew MacDonald, who logged a game-high 29:19 of ice time. "They were taking it to us, but we still felt like we had a chance. That was almost all due to Nabby."
What comes next for the defense is another call-up, most likely. Hamonic was released from the hospital only Tuesday and won't return for another 10 days at the minimum. Jurcina has resumed skating, so he could be ready for tomorrow's game with the Canadiens, the first of three home games in four days.
Matt Donovan, like Ness a first-year pro, is next in line for recall. Ness had some jitters, including losing an edge to give the Flyers a golden chance in the game's opening minutes, but he had some better moments later on in his 14:25 of ice time.
"First Juice, then Travis, now Dylan," Capuano said, shaking his head. "We're going to have to go back to the drawing board."