MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — The Islanders bring a three-game win streak out here, which doesn’t look that impressive alongside the Wild’s 11-game steamroll.
It’s been baby steps for the Isles, who have played their most complete stretch of games this season thanks to some unlikely contributions.
John Tavares has done his part, of course, but not how you’d think. He’s got one point, a goal, among the 13 goals the Islanders have scored during this win streak. It’s been Tavares the penalty killer who has been the most impactful.
Jack Capuano decided to add his captain to the penalty killing rotation in Boston last week, trying to make up for the extended absence of Casey Cizikas, the main PK faceoff man and the team leader in shorthanded ice time per game.
The Isles are 9-for-9 on the penalty kill since Tavares joined it and he was instrumental in the two late kills that preserved the Isles’ 4-3 win over the Capitals on Tuesday. Tavares, paired with Nikolay Kulemin, won two of three faceoffs, including both draws to begin each Caps power play.
“You get those few seconds after the draw and they don’t get a chance to set up, that’s a big help,” Kulemin said. “JT, he’s been in the PK meetings with us for a long time, he knows what we’re doing and how we do it.”
As far as offense, Andrew Ladd has three goals in the last two games and red-hot Anders Lee has three in three. The Lee-Tavares-Josh Bailey line has been strong at even strength, as have the Ladd-Alan Quine-Jason Chimera and Kulemin-Ryan Strome-Cal Clutterbuck lines.
This is the sort of balance Jack Capuano has referred to often the past two-plus seasons. Despite having one of the league’s elite players in Tavares, the Islanders have shown they can’t succeed when just one or two players are going well.
That ethos is epitomized by Quine, the surprise call-up at the end of last season who scored the clutch double-overtime winner in Game 5 against the Panthers. He made the team out of camp this season and was in and out of the lineup until recently. He has a goal and four assists in the last six games, earning praise from his veteran linemates and his coach.
“He’s one of those guys we met with at the end of last season and it was, what kind of summer are you going to have?” Capuano said. “With our roster, nothing was given for him. He worked hard, he was patient early on this year when he didn’t play a lot and now he’s being rewarded for his hard work.”