CHICAGO — Think less, play better.
The Islanders will carry a three-game winning streak into Tuesday night against Chicago at United Center to open a three-game Midwest swing. They scored 14 goals in the three wins, but just as important is a visible growing comfort in their defensive structure.
Fewer seam passes are making it through the Islanders’ defensive zone and more play is being kept to the outside.
“I think guys have bought in,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said after Monday’s practice. “It’s been a lot of similar stuff in the past. There’s always little tweaks here and there.
“It’s less thinking about where you’re supposed to be. It’s just moving your feet and getting to the spots and doing your job. Guys are working and getting back and getting to their spots naturally. It just helps you play more freely and play right.”
The Islanders entered Monday tied for ninth in the NHL with 24 goals against.
Any team that Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello has constructed has been predicated on strong defense. Coach Lane Lambert taking over for Barry Trotz and new assistant coach Doug Houda running the defense changes none of that.
But the Islanders are turning defense into offense, too, as they are fourth in the NHL with 33 goals scored.
They have allowed six goals during their current winning streak, including Saturday night’s 5-4 comeback win over the reigning Stanley Cup champion Avalanche at UBS Arena. The Islanders had allowed 12 goals in the three games preceding their winning streak.
“There were times where we were maybe thinking too much and got caught standing still,” Pulock said.
The Islanders have a chance to defensively stifle some struggling offensive teams on this road trip.
Chicago entered Monday tied for eighth in the NHL with 31 goals and has 11 goals in its current 0-1-2 skid after back-to-back shootout losses. But the Blues, whom the Islanders will face on Thursday night, entered Monday night’s home game against the Kings last in the NHL with 18 goals in their first seven games.
The trip concludes Saturday afternoon in Detroit, and the Red Wings entered Monday 25th in the league with 25 goals scored.
“We pride ourselves on our defensive play and that is our overall identity,” Lambert said. “To score goals in this league, you have to get into the interior, so that’s why we like to protect that area. We’ve done a pretty good job of it. Guys are understanding the positioning. We definitely feel like we’re getting better in that area.”
Notes & quotes: In Monday’s practice, the lines and the defense pairs stayed the same as they’ve been during the three-game winning streak. Forwards Ross Johnston and Nikita Soshnikov and defenseman Robin Salo skated as extras after practice . . . Ilya Sorokin, who has stopped 74 of 76 shots in winning his last two starts, is expected to start against Chicago.