WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Islanders scored early and often on New Year’s Eve. They put 2016 to bed with perhaps their best road game of the season, a 6-2 thumping of the Jets that sent the Isles into their league-mandated five-day break on a good note.
“We played a complete game, which is what we needed to do,” said Anders Lee, one of six goal-scorers on the night. “We scored on our opportunities when we had them. You can’t expect it every night, but you have to take advantage.”
The Islanders are only at .500 in points percentage, with 36 in 36 games, but there are burgeoning signs of the team that had regular-season success the previous two seasons. They scored at least four goals for a fifth straight game after doing so only six times in the first 31 and scored first for the ninth time in the last 10.
Nikolay Kulemin followed his own rebound for the opening strike at 6:54. The Jets played hot potato with the puck in the defensive zone and Josh Bailey tipped a feed to get John Tavares in alone on Connor Hellebuyck for the captain’s 11th goal at 12:25.
Shane Prince scored off a nice feed from Ryan Strome at 2:26 of the second and Strome netted one himself at 14:13, sending Hellebuyck to the bench.
Strome had been going well as the center between Kulemin and Cal Clutterbuck. With Casey Cizikas’ return to the lineup Saturday night, Strome moved to the wing with Prince and Brock Nelson and continued his solid play of late.
“The last 10 games or so have been good for me,” said Strome, who has four goals and three assists in his last eight. “I’m putting pucks towards the net and they’re going in. I don’t know what it is, but you just ride the wave and try to keep it going.”
Shawn Matthias scored a shorthanded goal on Thomas Greiss (32 saves) with 29.4 seconds left in the second, but the bad third periods of the first two-plus months did not rear up on the Islanders this time.
Lee scored a ridiculous goal at 8:38 of the third, a one-handed deflection of Bailey’s centering feed past Michael Hutchinson. Andrew Ladd added a power-play goal in his old town at 10:18 and the Isles’ offense continued to hum.
“We’ve been a decent team defensively, but now we’re starting to score some goals,” Strome said. “We’re getting offense from a lot of different guys and it’s obviously made a huge difference.”
And now, with four wins in the last five, the Islanders grind to a halt with this break, a new addition to the schedule. No one around the team is happy with how it’s shaken out for the Isles. They will come out of the break in Denver against an Avalanche team that will have been playing and practicing all week.
That means the five-day break is really a four-day break, with the Islanders players agreeing to practice in Denver on Thursday before games there and in Arizona on Friday and Saturday.
“I don’t really think the league’s idea of a five-day break was really set up well for us,’’ Tavares said. “But it’s a long season and you have to take your rest where you can get it. You have to try and take advantage because we know what February and March [the Isles have 22 of their last 33 on the road] will be like.”