DENVER — The Islanders’ depth may be about to be tested.
An otherwise textbook defensive performance against the Avalanche and their lethal top line in a 4-1 win on Monday night at Pepsi Center to open a four-game road trip was marred somewhat by losing top-line center Brock Nelson and second-pair defenseman Thomas Hickey within 29 seconds late in the second period.
“Their top line is sick,” said Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk, a standout for his power-play goal and defensive work, including bailing out partner Nick Leddy on a couple of turnovers. “To hold them to one goal is an accomplishment. They still had their chances but [Thomas Greiss] played really well.”
The Islanders (16-12-4), who have won consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 23-24, play at Arizona on Tuesday night and it’s uncertain whether either Hickey or Nelson will be available. Islanders coach Barry Trotz said there was no immediate updates.
Greiss made 30 saves and the Islanders upped their game in the third period as Trotz shuffled his personnel down two men. Semyon Varlamov stopped 17 shots for the Avalanche (18-10-6).
“It was tough,” said captain Anders Lee, whose power-play tip of Leddy’s shot gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead at 18:25 after Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole stuck out his left knee to take down Nelson at 17:55. “Thomas is probably the most genuine person in this room so to see him come up a little dazed, we’re hoping for the best for him and the same with Brock just getting clipped.”
The Islanders went 2 for 4 on the power play, just the second time this season they’ve scored man-advantage goals in a game this season. It also marked the first time the Islanders have scored power-play goals in consecutive games since Nov. 13-15. They also killed off four of the Avalanche’s five power plays.
Hickey went hard, back first, into the boards as he tried to check Tyson Jost and 17:26 and, appearing very dazed, was helped off the ice. Cole could face NHL supplemental discipline for his kneeing penalty.
“Hopefully it’s some growth,” Trotz said of his team’s play in the third period. “We’re trying to learn how to win on a consistent basis with our decision-making process. We needed guys to step up and we needed guys to play the right way so we didn’t put the game at risk.”
Boychuk’s power-play one-timer from the left circle off defenseman Ryan Pulock’s feed gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead at 2:07 of the second period. But Gabriel Landeskog’s power-play tip of Tyson Barrie’s blue-line slap shot brought the Avalanche within 2-1 at 6:45 of the third period.
The Islanders then killed off a four-minute Avalanche power play when Josh Ho-Sang, playing his second game since being recalled from Bridgeport (AHL) on Dec. 9, was called for hooking Sven Andrighetto and then holding Gabriel Bourque at 11:23. Greiss made five saves in the four minutes.
Center Nathan MacKinnon (21 goals, 32 assists), Landeskog (22-19) and Mikko Rantanen (15-41), who had a 14-game point streak snapped, were limited to Landeskog’s power-play goal and MacKinnon’s secondary assist. MacKinnon did take six shots.
Trotz favored having Leddy and Boychuk on the ice against MacKinnon’s line with Nelson’s line with Lee and Jordan Eberle being used also as a frequent matchup until Nelson got hurt.
Nelson, with his 100th career assist, set up Eberle’s goal for a 1-0 lead at 18:20 of the first period as Eberle snapped a 10-game goal-less drought.
Valtteri Filppula clinched the game with an empty-netter at 17:36 of the third period.