In what was an overall low-event hockey game, the New York Islanders’ gritted their way to a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night at Prudential Center.
Goals — and shots — were both at a premium and the Islanders were up to the task even after New Jersey grabbed control in the second period.
While the Islanders’ power-play thrived in February and now has them 12th overall in the league (24.6 percent success rate), it was the penalty killers that staved off the Devils barrage in the middle period.
It was subsequent minors to Ryan Pulock and Cal Clutterbuck that put the Islanders in a precarious 5-on-3 situation in a then-scoreless game. Just off those two penalties New Jersey generated six shots on net, all saved by netminder Semyon Varlamov. But it was Varlamov who took a rare penalty with a tripping halfway through the period and put the Islanders a man short for two minutes.
In that stretch, Varlamov didn’t have to do much work, making one save on Damon Severson from the right circle before the penalty expired.
Even with all of the time on the penalty kill, the Islanders limited the number of Grade-A chances from New Jersey during those sequences. In fact, New Jersey did not register a single high danger chance for at all through the first two periods of the game and only could muster one entirely over 60 minutes.
“Oh it’s huge,” Nick Leddy said of the penalty killing unit. “[The PK] have been great all year. I try and do my best that I can when I get in, but they’ve been a huge staple for us all year and it creates momentum — I believe — for us and takes a little bit of momentum away from the power play.”
As you can see from the heat map from Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders did a good job protecting the net and crease areas and largely contained New Jersey to the perimeter. Even despite the total Corsi disadvantage, the Islanders held a 7-1 edge in high danger chances. Thanks to all the power plays and total chances, the Devils had an astronomical 88.09 expected goals percentage. But thanks to a few key saves by Varlamov and a general lack of wide-open looks, the Islanders penalty kill remained intact.
“How you manage their best, it might be for half a period, it might be five minutes, it might be a couple of shifts, if you don’t manage them very well you probably give up too much,” Barry Trotz said. “Then you’re chasing the game a little bit. We’re learning to manage our not-so-good moments and we’re taking advantage of our good moments.”
It was much of the same on New Jersey’s last power-play try in the third, which actually resulted in the Islanders getting the only shot on goal during Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s tripping minor.
For a team that’s not going to generally get into a track meet, the Islanders bread-and-butter game comes down to good positional play and being opportunistic on special teams. Since they’ve found a groove this year, that’s been the tried and true formula. After Tuesday’s night’s near shutout, the Islanders rank eighth in the NHL in PK percentage (82.8) and seventh in PK net (86.2 percent)
It was two power-play goals that lifted the Islanders to a win Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it was the other side of the coin that helped get them a win in New Jersey.