Barry Trotz left Washington after guiding the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup last season. This time the coach could leave the nation’s capital with his new team in first place in the Metropolitan Division.
“It would be meaningful,” Anders Lee said after scoring twice in the Islanders’ 4-1 win over the Devils on Thursday night before a crowd of 12,088 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“It’s tough not to think about all these awesome scenarios,” Lee added. “There’s a lot of hockey left and we want to take that next step. [FRIDAY]is a great opportunity to do that.”
The Islanders’ 13th win in their last 16 games propelled them within a point of both the Capitals and the Blue Jackets in the division.
A win over the Capitals on Friday night at Capital One Arena and a regulation loss by the Blue Jackets to the visiting Canadiens and the Islanders (27-15-4) would be atop the Metropolitan as they seek their first playoff berth since 2016.
“You want to be in first place,” said right wing Jordan Eberle, who extended his point streak to three games with a goal and an assist. “There’s a little added incentive with our coaching staff and I’m sure they’d love to be ahead of [THE CAPITALS], too. I think it will be an emotional game for them and an important one for everyone else.”
Associate coach Lane Lambert and director of goaltending Mitch Korn also were with the Capitals for their Cup run. The Islanders are 12-5-1 in the division under their new coaching staff.
“We understand the importance of two points on the line and the separation that can happen with just one game in the division,” Lee said.
The Islanders showed that with their fast start as they scored three goals on five first-period shots. Robin Lehner stopped 16 shots as they beat the Devils (18-22-7) for the third time in as many games.
Rookie Mackenzie Blackwood made 22 saves for the Devils, who have lost two straight and six of their past nine. Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall (lower body) missed his 12th straight game.
Lehner has won 10 of his last 11 decisions, but defenseman Andy Greene’s deflection through his pads at 7:07 of the third period ended his bid for a third shutout this season. Still, it marked the seventh time during Lehner’s last 11 decisions that he has allowed one or fewer goals.
The Devils were able to sustain offensive-zone pressure in the third period, something they could not do in the first 40 minutes.
“What impressed me is they scored one with 12 minutes left and we went right back and spent another three or four minutes in their zone,” Lehner said.
Lee opened the scoring at 5:48 as he tipped defenseman Nick Leddy’s point shot. Rookie Michael Dal Colle made it 2-0 at 9:19 by tipping defenseman Scott Mayfield’s point shot for his first NHL goal. Eberle extended the lead to 3-0 with a power-play goal at 15:12.
In the second period, the Islanders’ puck possession on one shift kept Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen on the ice for 3:15, Greene and center Travis Zajac for 3:03, left wing Blake Coleman for 2:53 and right wing Kyle Palmieri for 2:38.
Lee’s empty-netter at 17:41 of the third period clinched it.