Rick DiPietro made 29 saves and the Islanders got goals from Jesse Joensuu and Rob Schremp to down the New Jersey Devils 2-0 Friday afternoon at the Nassau Coliseum. The victory ended a 14 game winless slump for the Islanders (0-11-3), one short of the franchise record set back in 1972-73.
“It’s like a big weight was taken off our shoulders,” center John Tavares said after the game. “It was a great job by the penalty killers and a great job by Ricky.”
It was also the first NHL victory for interim Coach Jack Capuano who was quick to give credit to his players. “I was happy for the guys,” Capuano said. “We’ve worked very hard lately and it’s nice to get rewarded.”
The Islanders scored just 1:32 into the game off a pretty tic-tac-toe set of passes that went from Michael Grabner to Frans Nielsen to Joensuu who put the puck into the net from close range.
“I actually lost the puck in the neutral zone there,” Joensuu recalled. “I got it back and gave it to Martinek. He gave it to Grabner and I just thought about skating to the net. Grabner gave it to Frans and I saw that I was wide open and I called for it. It was a great play. I think it went through the D-man’s legs.”
The Islanders controlled the tempo of the game for the first period, outshooting an often listless looking Devils team 13-5.
Schremp made it 2-0 Islanders 5:15 into the second when he scored on a one-timer from just above the goal line. The goal was set up by a very accurate cross ice pass by Blake Comeau.
The Devils woke up a bit in the final five minutes of the second period and controlled the tempo for the third period. The Isles stepped back and tried to hold on to their precious lead. New Jersey outshot the Isles 13-1 in the third period and had several opportunities to get back into the game, but the Islanders did a good job of keeping the Devils on the perimeter and preventing quality second and third chances.
Perhaps the best chance the Devils had was a 5-on-3 power play midway through the third period when Dylan Reese was sent to the penalty box for interference and James Wisniewski was given a double minor for high sticking just 1:02 later. The Islanders killed off the penalty and kept the Devils from closing the two goal gap.
Rick DiPietro acknowledged how important the third period penalty kill was. “It was huge. It is kills like that that can turn a whole season around,” DiPietro said. “I could feel the energy in the building and the energy on the bench. I think that’s a big thing for us. Our team feeds off energy. Throughout the streak when things went bad, we went through a little bit of a funk and our heads were down and it was tough to come out of that. Today we fed off the crowd and each other and we had a pretty good game.”
Despite the big win, Capuano admitted his team did not give a complete effort. “I think we did a good job for almost two periods but then the tide turned, they [the Devils] ramped it up and we didn’t respond the way we should have but the penalty kill was big for us in the third.”
In the end, it was DiPietro who was solid in the third period, turning away all 13 shots by New Jersey to earn his first shutout of the season.
More than anything, it was a big relief for the Islanders to finally earn their first win since October 21. The team is hoping it is the beginning of a turnaround to their season. “You have to go into every game expecting to win, to compete at your highest level, and give ourselves a chance,” Tavares said. “We have obviously been in this tough stretch and it’s nice to be out of it. Hopefully we can get [a streak] going the other way.”
The Islanders are off until next Thursday when they host the Rangers at the Nassau Coliseum.
Doug Weight [back spasms] and Trent Hunter [knee] were scratches for the Islanders.
The Isles dominated in two important statistical areas, blocked shots and hits. The Isles had 27 blocked shots to just 11 for the Devils. Mark Eaton and Radek Martinek each blocked six shots to lead the way. The Islanders were credited with 31 hits to just 14 for the Devils. P.A. Parenteau had four to lead the Isles. Every Islanders skater except one (Frans Nielsen) was credited with at least one hit.