The New York Islanders continue to find new ways to win hockey games they almost certainly would have lost a year ago. Goalie Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves including 16 in the third period as the Islanders held on for a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils before a sellout crowd at the Nassau Coliseum.
Nikolay Kulemin, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas scored for the Islanders while Damien Brunner was the only New Jersey player able to solve Halak. The Islanders goalie won his ninth straight game and improved his record for the season to 12-4-0.
“Jaro made some big saves,” Clutterbuck said. “He’s given us a chance to win games. He sprinkles in a game every once in a while that maybe we shouldn’t win, or makes a couple of shots he shouldn’t so there’s not much more you can ask for.”
Tonight was definitely one of those gems.
The Islanders controlled the tempo of the game for most of the first 40 minutes. They took the first seven shots on net in the game before the Devils started to get their legs under them.
Kulemin made it 1-0 Isles when he pounced on a puck that just squirted between the pads of New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider. Kulemin had a lot of time and space to deposit the rebound into the net. The shot was a hard blast from the circle by Kyle Okposo that just proved too much for Schneider to handle.
The Devils tied the game with 5:33 left in the first period as Brunner deflected home a shot from the point by Adam Larsson.
Clutterbuck broke the tie when he scored the only goal of the second period just 3:32 into the middle stanza. He got a piece of a shot by defenseman Calvin de Haan. There was plenty of traffic in front of the net and Schneider was definitely screened on the play.
The third period was all New Jersey. The Devils outshot the Isles 16-2 and one of the Isles’ shots was the empty-net goal by Cizikas with just 4.3 seconds left on the clock.
New Jersey swarmed around the Islanders net, but Halak continued to make save after save. He remained calm, stayed square to the shooter and was able to see most of the shots.
The Islanders continued to make the little defensive plays that win hockey games. Brian Strait lifted the stick of a Devils’ forward in the slot to prevent a good scoring chance. Clutterbuck used his strength and positioning to clear the puck out of the slot area and get the Islanders out of their own zone.
The Devils even had a 5-on-3 advantage for 55 seconds with 2:04 left in regulation time but the penalty killers stayed disciplined and Halak stopped every puck shot at him.
A year ago, the Islanders would have had trouble holding a lead in a game like this.
“The difference is confidence,” Cizikas explained when asked about the how this year’s team is different from last season’s. “Last year, when there was say 10 minutes left, we were kind of getting down. The other team was taking it to us and we didn’t respond very well to it. Tonight we kind of stopped, regained our momentum and took it to them.”
Isles’ captain John Tavares also sees increased confidence in this team. “I think you just see the poise and the composure,” Tavares said. “Today in the third period, you give the Devils credit, they came hard, did some good things, got some pucks to the net, but we stayed with it. We were calm, understood to stick to our game and work hard and get things to go back our way…The PK came up big and Jaro’s playing great so those are things that go a long way.”
The Islanders also reversed their recent November curse. They finished the month with an 11-3-0 record, the team’s best record in November since the 1980-81 championship team.
“We will build off it and learn from it,” Tavares said. “It’s been great to get the results we wanted, but there’s a long way to go. We want to do what the 80-81 team did in June.”
The Islanders return to action Tuesday night when they host the Ottawa Senators at the Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders honored Denis Potvin before the game and Potvin dropped the ceremonial first puck. He received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 16,170.
The Islanders played without defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Lubomir Visovsky. Brian Strait and Matt Donovan stepped in and both played well. Strait blocked four shots for the Isles. Capuano said both Boychuk and Visnovsky will be re-evaluated on Monday.