Style points are nice in October, or even January. But the Islanders are long past that, with the Ides of March near and the Playoffs of April not far behind.
On Monday night, all that mattered was securing two points for themselves and denying any to the Blue Jackets, and so it came to pass at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
Did the Islanders’ 2-0 win erase the recent rough patch that dropped them out of first place and into an ill-timed funk? It did not.
The Blue Jackets had the better of the play much of the game, and the Islanders extended their power-play drought to an even 20 opportunities.
But again, survival was enough, at least on this night.
The Islanders were happy to take it and did not spend much time dwelling on the negatives. In fact, the postgame talk was nothing but positive.
“We obviously needed this,” said captain Anders Lee, whose empty-net goal clinched it with 1:30 remaining. “The boys were ready to go from the get-go. The energy was there prior to the game. We were excited for this one. We were sick of going through all these lackluster games a little bit and we wanted to end it right now, tonight. We know how important the two points were.”
Ryan Pulock, whose first-period goal gave the Islanders an early lead, said: “We knew we’d have to bring our game and have to be a lot better than we’ve been the last little past. We showed up right from the start. We hit the pedal all night.”
And Josh Bailey: “It was big for us just as a whole to feel like we played a solid game, and I think we did that.”
Again, that is a matter of opinion. Coach Barry Trotz said he was pleased with the first period, less so the second, but mostly was proud of the Islanders’ “battle level.” He added, “That’s how the Islanders win.”
It is an important week as they conclude a stretch of eight of nine games at the Coliseum by facing two teams on their heels in the Eastern Conference. After the Blue Jackets come the Canadiens on Thursday night.
Not long ago, it appeared the Islanders needed to focus only on finishing first in the Metropolitan Division and staying sharp for the playoffs. But the recent lull left them in a scrum of contenders angling for position behind the mighty Lightning.
That scrum got untangled a bit with the win over the Blue Jackets, whose 79 points trail the Islanders by eight. Had Columbus won, that number would have been four. Trotz called it a “four-point playoff game.”
Pulock’s early goal was exactly what the Islanders needed after Saturday’s 5-2 dud against the Flyers.
But things got mighty sticky after that. Among other things, Cam Atkinson of the Blue Jackets hit the right post twice. Thomas Greiss was under attack in goal for long stretches.
The Islanders spent much of the third period hanging on. Twelve minutes in, they had one shot on goal.
“We’re not too worried about the shot clock,” Bailey said. “First and foremost, we’re trying to take care of business in our own end and do the right thing. Sometimes that leads to a little extended zone time for the other team . . . We make the right play, we get it in the neutral zone.”
Fair enough. To the victor goes the positive spin.
The Islanders are in excellent position to make the playoffs, and will be even more so if they win Thursday. But they still need to be sharper. “Any time you go through a stretch like that, one game is nice to right it a little bit,” Lee said. “But we have to continue that play we had tonight. We’re not going to be satisfied by having one good one in a row.”
Good, bad or indifferent, it was two points. To which the Islanders and their fans could say only this: Phew.