Islanders' penalty-kill key component of recent success
The Islanders bring a three-game winning streak — matching their season high — into Sunday afternoon’s game against the Devils at Prudential Center. Not coincidentally, their penalty kill is 9-for-9 over that stretch.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, though, the Islanders have not faltered against the power play despite the absences of key penalty killers Cal Clutterbuck and Scott Mayfield. Clutterbuck, who requires shoulder surgery, is out for the rest of the season. Mayfield has a lower-body injury that will likely sideline him the rest of the way as well.
“There’s some confidence,” coach Barry Trotz said after Friday night’s 3-0 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. “We’re probably extending a few of the forwards. A guy like Josh Bailey is playing primary minutes, really with Casey [Cizikas]. He’s sort of filled Clutter’s role.
“You look at a guy like [defenseman Zdeno] Chara, he’s been an elite penalty killer for 20 years. Pelly [Adam Pelech], I would consider him an elite penalty killer. Dobber [Noah Dobson] has grown into that role. Pully [Ryan Pulock] has taken on a bigger role, which is great. That’s how you grow. Sometimes injuries force you into those roles.”
The Islanders did not practice on Saturday after completing back-to-back games. Friday’s win opened a five-game road trip and a stretch of eight of nine on the road following Thursday night’s 5-2 win over the Blue Jackets at UBS Arena, which swept a home-and-home series.
The Islanders stymied all three of the Rangers’ power plays on Friday, just as they did in both wins over the Blue Jackets. That included two crucial, first-period kills after taking a 1-0 lead. In all, the Rangers were limited to just two man-advantage shots.
Overall, the Islanders are 22-of-25 (88.0%) in the eight games since Clutterbuck left the lineup. They are 17-of-19 (89.5%) in six games without both Clutterbuck and Mayfield.
The Islanders’ penalty kill ranked fifth in the NHL entering Saturday at 140-for-167 (83.8%).
Still, the Islanders (31-27-9) remain 13 points behind the Capitals for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot.
But the penalty kill has been part of a 10-3-1 run that has left their slim playoff hopes flickering.
Which leaves the Islanders to wonder what if they had been able to play like this sooner.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Matt Martin said. “We knew what we were capable of with back-to-back conference final runs. We certainly had our challenges throughout the season but we never really wanted to use that as an excuse, either. We just didn’t find enough consistency in the early part of the season. That really dug us a hole. I think over the last 15, 20 games we’ve been the team that everyone expected us to be.”