LOS ANGELES — It figures that the Islanders would get themselves a win by playing their worst game in over a week.
After playing well in two straight games and coming away with just one point in a shootout loss to the Blues and a regulation loss to the Ducks earlier this week, Doug Weight’s crew leaned heavily on Thomas Greiss to wrestle two points out of San Jose on Saturday night.
Not a recipe for long-term success, but Weight and his team were certainly aware of what the Sharks were capable of. The same went for Sunday night’s visit with the Kings here — another heavy team that has a long history of cycling in the offensive zone and throwing shots and traffic toward the opposing net.
“They’ve been playing that way for a long time,” said Greiss, who was a Sharks draft pick and spent five years in the organization. “They know how to get shots through and keep the pressure on. I thought we did a good job clearing guys out.”
Greiss needed to make 40 saves, 29 over the final two periods, a stretch in which the Sharks had a 58-30 edge in shot attempts. Jaroslav Halak got the call on Sunday against the Kings to try and send the Islanders home with some good feelings from their three-game California swing that started with a strong but fruitless effort in Anaheim.
Where the Islanders had been assertive in exiting their own end and gaining speed into the offensive zone against the Blues and Ducks, they had a hard time connecting on passes through the neutral zone and struggled to maintain any sustained time in the San Jose end other than a decent stretch over the last half of the first period and the first half of the second.
No wonder that they scored both goals against Sharks goaltender Aaron Dell during that span. Anders Lee deflected an Adam Pelech shot that Jordan Eberle had already tipped to tie the game at 17:02 of the first and Brock Nelson scored his team-leading third at 6:27 of the second, finishing off a nice passing play from Calvin de Haan and Josh Ho-Sang.
Ho-Sang, who leads the Isles in points and assists with four, and Mathew Barzal earned praise from Weight for using their speed to challenge the big Sharks. Barzal had three odd-man rushes for chances to get his first NHL point.
“Even when he’s walking up the wall he’s making smart plays. That’s how he needs to play,” Weight said of Ho-Sang. “Matty as well. I think they see when they play the right way they’re still going to get their opportunities. I’ve liked what I’ve seen.”
Weight kept the same skaters for Sunday’s game against the Kings, meaning Anthony Beauvillier and Ryan Pulock remained healthy scratches for a second straight night. After barely withstanding the Sharks onslaught on Saturday, the Islanders will need to be sturdier against a Kings team that is one of two left in the NHL without a regulation loss (3-0-1).
“We started making some shoddy decisions, our feet stopped moving for a while,” Weight said of Saturday’s performance. “It was stellar in our own zone — we got to practice it a lot in the third. They didn’t pick us apart. It was more decisions in other parts of the rink.”