There was nothing fancy to this one, and that suits the Islanders best.
“That’s how we play,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “It was nice to see. It was not a perfect game. But that was a good game for us.”
A simply played 2-0 win over the Coyotes on Sunday afternoon at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum concluded a very productive weekend for the Islanders, who beat the Flyers, 4-2, in Philadelphia on Saturday. They remained one point behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals with six games left.
Robin Lehner started both weekend matinees and stopped 31 shots on Sunday to extend his career high with his fifth shutout. The Islanders (44-25-7), who allowed an NHL-worst 293 goals last season, lead the league with 10 shutouts.
“We’re looking to take over the division and give ourselves the best chance to move as far as we can,” said right wing Jordan Eberle, who got to the crease for a rebound and scored his second goal in five games after a 17-game goal drought to make it 1-0 at 4:37 of the first period.
“We have to match teams’ desperation. We’re still desperate, but we’re in a spot where we have a little bit of a cushion. You don’t want to think that way. So I like the way we played today.”
Darcy Kuemper stopped 24 shots for the Coyotes (36-33-7). They are in an 0-3-2 slide, scored four goals on their now-concluded four-game road trip and were shut out for the seventh time.
Brock Nelson finally provided a two-goal margin as he won an offensive zone faceoff in the left circle from Derek Stepan and then scored on a wraparound to the far post at 16:46 of the third period.
The Islanders had the more dangerous scoring chances — in the final minute of the second period, Mathew Barzal’s line with Eberle and Anders Lee along with defensemen Devon Toews and Scott Mayfield provided a clinic in how to maintain offensive zone pressure — and limited the Coyotes to mainly long-range shots and few rebound chances.
Referring to Lehner and goaltending partner Thomas Greiss, Eberle said, “They’re the reason we’re in the position we are. They’ve made some big saves. But we’ve done a good job of helping them out. I’m not taking anything away from them, but the defensive style we’ve played, we’ve done a good job of preventing all the ‘A’ chances and odd-man rushes and they’ve done the rest.”
Lehner provided a crucial save by getting his arm on former Islander Michael Grabner’s shorthanded breakaway at 9:24 of the third period to preserve a one-goal lead.
“Especially when we’re playing our game, we have confidence in being up by one goal,” Lehner said. “Play hard and wait for them to make some mistakes and capitalize on it. At the end of the day, that’s how we’ve played all year. We’re trying to score some goals, but the way we play defensively when everyone pitches in, we’re fine.”
The Islanders entered the weekend off back-to-back shutout defeats, falling to the Bruins, 5-0, at the Coliseum on Tuesday and to the Canadiens, 4-0, in Montreal on Thursday.
But coach Barry Trotz liked the response, especially from his top-six forwards. Josh Bailey broke a 2-2 tie with two goals late in the third period on Saturday after Nelson scored the first goal against the Flyers.
“It just feels right,” Trotz said. “When we play right, it feels right and you don’t really worry about the score as much. We can frustrate teams. All the veteran guys are stepping up. They had gone dry for a little bit.”
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