It was a momentous day for Isles rookie goaltender Anders Nilsson. He made 24 saves to earn his first NHL win and his first NHL shutout as the New York Islanders downed the visiting New Jersey Devils 1-0 at the Nassau Coliseum Sunday afternoon.
Kyle Okposo’s goal at 2:39 of the second period was the only scoring by either team. It was a strong play by Okposo who outmuscled Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov along the boards and bulled his way to the deep slot with second and third effort before putting the puck past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.
Okposo noted that he is trying to play a more physical brand of hockey. “I’m just trying to get back to wanting the puck,” he noted. “I want the puck on my stick and when you have that mind set, the puck seems to follow you around.”
After that, the Islanders let their team defense take over. For the second straight game, the Isles did a good job of allowing their goalie to see shots and keeping the opposition on the perimeter whenever they got the puck in the Islanders zone.
“That’s how we have to play for us to have success,” Isles Coach Jack Capuano explained. “A defense first mentality and blocking lanes. We contained well and kept them outside the dots, our goalie made some saves when we needed him to and we did a good job of boxing some guys out tonight.”
The defense played a strong game. “It was a good effort and I think we did a good job of just limiting where they were going to get their scoring chances from,” Travis Hamonic said. “We’re taking steps in the right direction [defensively], by no means are we there yet but we have some veteran leadership on this team and they’re out there battling and leading the way.”
Steve Staios had a particularly strong defensive game for the Isles, blocking five shots and breaking up a number of cross ice passes including one by Ilya Kovalchuk that would have given the Devils an ideal scoring chance from in close.
While his team played well in front of him, Nilsson was the story of the game and he looked forward to putting the puck from his first NHL win and shutout on the mantle in his apartment back home in Sweden.
“He was terrific tonight,” Okposo said. “I don’t think he was even out of position once. You practice against a guy like that and it’s tough to score in practice because you can’t find any holes. He’s got some talent and tonight he showed it.”
It was only the second NHL start for Nilsson. His first came earlier this season in Pittsburgh in the game that marked Sidney Crosby’s return to the NHL. This time, he knew what to expect.
“You’re always a little bit nervous before a game, that’s how it should be, actually,” Nilsson said. “I felt more and more comfortable as the game went on. All the guys out there really stepped it up for me and blocked shots.”
The game was an intense one befitting two division rivals and featured plenty of pushing and shoving after the whistle. At one point, Matt Moulson took a high stick to the face and needed stitches before returning to action. P.A. Parenteau got hit in the hand but shook it off and continued.
These two teams will meet twice more in the next week and the intensity level should only increase.
The Islanders are now off until Thursday when they head to New Jersey for their next meeting with the Devils. New Jersey will host the Rangers Tuesday night at the Rock in Newark.
Michael Grabner and Dylan Reese were scratched along with Al Montoya. Aaron Ness was recalled from Bridgeport on an emergency basis in case Mark Eaton was unable to play but Eaton was in the lineup and blocked four shots while playing for 14:46.
Devils forward Petr Sykora was playing in his 1,000 career NHL game.