No rust issues here. The Islanders looked as crisp over a full 60 minutes as they have all season.
After three days of practice and an off day, they extended their winning streak to five games with a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes on Thursday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“Everyone was excited to play,” said Derick Brassard, who was switched from his natural position of center to right wing on Brock Nelson’s second line and made it 1-0 at 1:25 of the first period with his first goal as an Islander. “We’re kind of sick of practicing. It’s always nice to get a rest, but we felt the energy right off the bat. I think it was a complete game.”
The extended break allowed invaluable fourth-line center Casey Cizikas, who had missed five games with a lower-body injury, to heal, and his return helped the lineup click. His line with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck again was able to set the Islanders’ hard-working, hard-forechecking identity.
“I liked that we came out and set the tone,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We were dogs on the bone right off the bat. That was more Islanders hockey. Obviously, Cizikas’ line back together, that just looks right.”
The win started a stretch of three games in four nights for the Islanders (6-3-0), who will play at Ottawa on Friday night and against the Flyers at the Coliseum on Sunday night. Another four-day break follows.
The Islanders had not played since a 3-2 overtime win at Columbus on Saturday night.
“You just try and keep it simple,” said right wing Josh Bailey, who was moved to Mathew Barzal’s top line with Anders Lee and gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead at 14:03 of the second period.
He then set up a crucial goal by Lee — who connected with a backhander at the crease despite falling on his backside — for a two-goal lead at 8:00 of the third period.
“I thought, from the first shift, we did that for the most part,” Bailey added. “We played north and guys got their legs going.”
Nelson had two assists, nine Islanders had at least one point and Semyon Varlamov stopped 21 shots to win his third straight start.
Darcy Kuemper made 18 saves for the Coyotes (5-3-1), who had their winning streak snapped at four games. Kuemper allowed more than two goals for the first time in his last 14 appearances.
“These guys like to start quick,” said defenseman Ryan Pulock, who set up Brassard’s tip-in at the crease with a slap shot from the right boards. “We had to take control of the game early.”
Conor Garland cut the Islanders’ lead to 3-2 at 18:55 with the Coyotes skating six-on-five. Defenseman Scott Mayfield clinched it with a rink-long, empty-net goal with 11.2 seconds remaining.
“I just think we played the right way,” Bailey said. “It wasn’t just offensively. It was all over the ice. We were, for the most part, smart with the puck, making smart decisions and not forcing things. Then we seemed to find some chemistry in the offensive zone.”
The Coyotes tied it at 1-1 as former Islander Michael Grabner beat Varlamov over his glove from the left circle off a bad line change and Bailey’s giveaway.
Phil Kessel’s hook on Clutterbuck at 15:06 of the second period ended the Islanders’ stretch of 128:24 without a power play dating to the second period at Winnipeg. But the Islanders’ man advantage lasted only 41 seconds before Barzal negated it by slashing the stick of defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
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