The first-place Islanders.
OK, OK, it’s only two games into November, way too early to put too much stock in the NHL standings.
Still, being atop the Metropolitan Division means something to these Islanders.
“Yeah, of course it does,” right wing Josh Bailey said. “At this point in the season, that’s where every team in our division would want to be. I think we’re very aware there’s still a long way to go and this is just the beginning.”
The Islanders edged the Devils, 3-0, on Saturday night at Barclays Center to leapfrog the Penguins, move into first place and extend their winning streak to five games, all against divisional opponents.
The Islanders are 8-4-1 (17 points) to the Penguins’ 6-3-3 (15). The Isles, on their longest winning streak since they ended 2016-17 by winning their last six games, will conclude a three-game homestand on Monday night against the Canadiens.
“It’s got to help the confidence,” coach Barry Trotz said of taking over first place. “I think we’re just playing the right way.”
Goalie Thomas Greiss made 35 saves for his ninth career shutout and second of the season, following up on his 29-save outing in Thursday night’s 3-2 shootout win over the Penguins.
“It’s a good stretch for us,” said Brock Nelson, who kept the puck on a two-on-one rush with Anders Lee and made it 2-0 at 15:06 of the third period. “We’ve won a couple of different ways now. Today was a good job by the penalty kill and Greisser came up big when we needed him.”
Scott Mayfield added a shorthanded goal from about 200 feet into an empty net with 13.6 seconds left.
Farmingville’s Keith Kinkaid stopped 30 shots for the Devils (5-5-1) in a performance just an iota less impressive than that of Greiss, but the Islanders killed off all four of the Devils’ power plays. The Devils have lost the first three games of their seven-game road trip and are in a 1-5-1 slide overall.
Thanks to Greiss and the defensive structure around him, which mostly kept the opponents away from the crease, the Islanders have given up only seven goals in their five-game winning streak. They allowed an NHL-worst 293 goals last season and missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
“It’s a great structure this year and we’re just playing well as a team and everyone is chipping in,” Greiss said. “It’s always nice when you don’t give up five, six goals a night. You just feel good as the puck hits you. It’s a way more comfortable way of playing.”
Greiss, who dived to poke the puck away on Sidney Crosby’s overtime breakaway on Thursday, used his stick to thwart Taylor Hall’s breakaway at 8:11 of the second period as the Devils caught the Islanders on a bad line change.
“He’s certainly in the zone,” Bailey said. “We feed off of that. When him and Lennie [Robin Lehner] are really on, it adds so much confidence to our team.”
The Islanders led 1-0 after a first period that featured little even-strength time. They had three of their four power plays in the first period, scoring on their first as Jordan Eberle, at the left post, slammed in the puck at 7:43.
Bailey, shooting from the top of the right circle, received the secondary assist, extending his team-high point streak to eight games.
“I thought we got off to a little bit of a slow start but our goalie was good early,” Trotz said. “I liked the mindset. We just got off to a little slower start.”
The Islanders killed off the Devils’ two early power plays as Thomas Hickey went off for high-sticking Travis Zajac 18 seconds into the period and Mathew Barzal got his stick up on Nico Hischier at 3:12.
“We played a really great third period,” Greiss said. “We didn’t give them anything. It frustrates them, and at some point you have to open up and try a little too much, and you have to take advantage of those chances.”