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Islanders begin home run with win over Capitals

Islanders players celebrate a goal by John Tavares

Islanders players celebrate a goal by John Tavares against the Capitals in the second period at Barclays Center on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Doug Weight had seen good things from Jaroslav Halak of late, even if the results hadn’t been there. Weight also showed some defiance on Monday morning when asked why he was giving Halak a third straight start in goal with the red-hot Capitals coming to Brooklyn.

“I feel good about both our goalies,” Weight said. “No one else does. I don’t really care.”

People might start to take notice if Halak continues to play the way he did Monday night. He turned aside 31 Washington shots, making a couple of point-blank saves on Alex Ovechkin, to lead the Islanders to a 3-1 win in their first game home after a mostly unproductive four-game road trip.

The Islanders scored first on Monday, their first time doing so in six games, and played a decent first period. The key stretch on offense was a 58-second run in the opening 1:34 of the second, when Andrew Ladd and John Tavares scored from around a very poorly guarded Capitals net to make it 3-0.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz pulled Braden Holtby to try and spark his team, but the Islanders and Halak continued to play a strong game, something that had been missing during a 1-3-1 skid.

“We talked about it and we’ve been outshot in the first the last few games,” Halak said. “We did a better job for the most part and we came out and got the huge goals early in the second.”

Barely 30 seconds after Tavares scored and Philipp Grubauer supplanted Holtby, Halak had to be quick to turn aside Ovechkin, who was alone in the slot. Ovechkin pumped six shots on Halak but went without a point for the second straight game against the Isles.

It wasn’t the strongest third for the Islanders with that three-goal lead, and Dmitri Orlov beat Halak off a two-on-one at 8:23. But it was only the third time in the team’s 30 games this season that the Isles allowed fewer than two goals.

It appears that Halak, the forgotten man last season who was banished to the AHL for three months, has taken the reins as the No. 1 goaltender for the time being. He has started six of the last eight games, going 4-1-1, and Monday was his sharpest game of the season.

“Sometimes you need the results to get that extra confidence,” Josh Bailey said of Halak. “He made some really quality saves at the right times. He was on his game.”

Brock Nelson pounced on a rebound of Cal Clutterbuck’s shot and beat Holtby 2:36 into the game to get the Isles going as they movedto 9-1-2 at home, with six of the next seven games in Brooklyn.

“It’s hard for your goalies when they’re facing second and third opportunities,” Tavares said. “I thought we were a lot tougher around our net. We didn’t let them have much. Nothing was easy.”

That sounds like a description of the Isles’ goaltending this season. With a team save percentage at .897, well below the .907 league average, Weight has been waiting for Halak or Thomas Greiss to step forward.

He may have found his man.

“It’s such a tough position. All eyes are on you, and if you’re not at the top of your game, it’s going to be evident,” Weight said. “Jaro was a huge percentage of this win. And that’s refreshing.”

New York Sports