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 which went to a shootout), the Isles frankly needed one of those start-to-finish nights. They got one Sunday night at Barclays Center.
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Buoyed by a pair of goals by Marek Zidlicky and 27 saves by 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 goal to extend the Isles’ lead to 2-0 in the first period. “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 (8-0-2), the Islanders needed some offense from their defensemen.
Former Devil Zidlicky, 38, was an unlikely source. He was a healthy scratch in Columbus on Saturday to keep him fresh, but his blast from the point beat Cory Schneider just as an Islanders power play expired to open the scoring at 7:42 of the first period. Another slapper with 42.5 seconds left in the second period extended 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 two goals gave the Islanders 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 season, but they are right back near the top of the Metro, elbowing with the Rangers and Capitals for divisional supremacy.
The Rangers held an 11-point margin over the Islanders on Nov. 24. In less than three weeks, the Isles have overtaken their slumping rivals from Manhattan and haven’t 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 came during a short stretch of the second period after the Devils switched goaltenders.
But a strong shift by Mikhail Grabovski’s line generated chances in the final minute of the period before Zidlicky’s slap shot beat Kinkaid low to the stick side.
After losing the lead in the third period in the three previous games, the Islanders still were strong in Sunday night’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.”