It may be too early in the season to make definitive statements about the Islanders, but after a week of three home games against previously unbeaten teams resulted in 14 goals and three wins -- capped by Saturday night's 6-3 victory over the Sharks -- it is clear that no matter where the Isles call home, they're difficult to play against and keep in check.
"We did a pretty good job of using home ice to our advantage," said Josh Bailey, who tied it at 3-3 in the second period and set up Kyle Okposo's eventual winner 4:18 into the third. "These were three real tough teams and we kept that belief in here all the way through."
Monday's 4-2 win over the Jets was a bit more commanding, with the Isles grabbing a 3-0 lead in the second period and holding off a tough Winnipeg team. On Thursday, the Isles were sloppy through 24 minutes, falling behind 2-0 before grinding out a 4-3 win over Nashville.
On Saturday night, the Isles won their third in a row but again were sluggish through 20 minutes before pressuring the Sharks into mistakes and a bushel of goals -- an impressive feat against a team that had allowed only two goals in its four wins this season.
"When we can get our cycle going for a couple shifts in a row, it starts to wear on teams," said Anders Lee, who banked a puck off goaltender Alex Stalock's pads and in at 2:27 of the second to make it 2-2, one of three times the Isles rallied from a goal down in the second. "We knew they played last night and we've been there ourselves, so we had to make it tough on them."
Johnny Boychuk's ripper from the side boards caromed off iron and in just 21 seconds into the second to make it 1-1. That lead lasted all of 19 seconds, as Sharks rookie Nikolay Goldobin converted a pretty feed from Joe Thornton on a three-on-two.
Lee's goal was a bit controversial, as Stalock had removed his mask a second before the puck went in, but the officials didn't buy Stalock's explanation that a strap had broken on his mask and let the goal stand.
Jaroslav Halak's season debut after missing nearly all of the preseason plus the opening four games with an upper-body injury was not exactly a show-stopper, but it was good enough.
He allowed three goals on the first 14 shots, two on no-chance, odd-man rushes in the second and one that banked off Joe Pavelski and in for the first goal. But Halak stopped the final 11 San Jose shots as his teammates took control in the latter half of the game.
"It was kind of weird to be out there again since I missed pretty much the whole camp," Halak said.
"It's good to be back, good to have this one behind me. I'll take the win, even if it wasn't pretty at times."
Okposo's winner was another case of resilience. Bailey sprung his linemate for a partial breakaway, but Okposo snapped off a shot from 20 feet that Stalock turned aside. Okposo went to the corner, took the puck from Brenden Dillon, powered to the net and chipped another try past Stalock for the eventual winner.
Brock Nelson added insurance with 8:50 left and Frans Nielsen scored into an empty net for his 100th career goal and 300th point.
"It's still early. I think we're still trying to find our game," Halak said. Even so, three wins over three difficult Western Conference teams makes the search for Islanders hockey that much easier.