The Islanders haven't exactly gone Bigfoot on their opponents this season. They're not possession monsters or cycling teams into submission. What they've been, and what they were again in Monday night's methodical 4-0 win over the Flames at Barclays Center, is a good team that can find a few different ways to grab two points night in and night out.
On Monday night, that meant Jaroslav Halak stood strong to make 29 saves for his second shutout in a week. It meant special teams, which were terribly inconsistent last season, were a key again. The Islanders had a power-play goal and three successful penalty kills, giving them 21 straight in the last six games.
And it meant keeping another Western Conference opponent at bay, though the Flames have become a bit of a stumbling mess at 2-7-0.
The Islanders took a 1-0 lead into the third period and never gave Calgary a hint that it could tie things up, pushing the pace and staying aggressive to overwhelm the Flames. That ran the Isles' record to 6-2-1 -- a better start than they had last season, which finished as the organization's best in three decades.
"I still don't think we've played our best," said Frans Nielsen, who snapped a wrist shot past Joni Ortio's glove at 5:26 of the third period for a 2-0 lead. Nielsen also deflected Kyle Okposo's shot past Ortio at 18:10 to close out the scoring.
"Our goalies have given us some big games," Nielsen said. "We got it tonight from Jaro, we got it [Saturday] in St. Louis from [Thomas] Greiss. We still need to make some smarter decisions with the puck, but we're finding ways to win, scoring some goals when we need them."
The Islanders came out strong, determined to get pucks and bodies to the net on Ortio, a 24-year-old making his first start of the season. Casey Cizikas rang one off the crossbar midway through the first period.
In the second, Flames tough guy Brandon Bollig tried to fight Matt Martin, who declined, so Bollig chose to shove Brian Strait into Halak to draw the Isles' first power play.
They didn't capitalize there, but they did on their next man advantage when Johnny Boychuk fired the puck around the wall to stretch the Flames' penalty-killers. Josh Bailey made a quick feed to Mikhail Grabovski and his wrist shot beat Ortio at 14:01.
"Special teams was a factor," Jack Capuano said. "I thought everybody contributed."
Ryan Strome returned from a one-game benching and had some good moments back alongside John Tavares. The Nielsen-Okposo-Nikolay Kulemin line was strong. And the Martin-Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck trio, the only line that has remained intact through all nine games, barreled through the Flames all night and produced the third goal, a wrister by Clutterbuck at 11:33 of the third after some strong boardwork by Cizikas.
"Our best line tonight," Capuano said, "by far."
So the Islanders, winners of six of seven, can't say they've played their best yet. But what they've done has put them back near the top of the conference before the first month of the season is finished.
Said Nielsen, "I think we can only get better from here."
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