Captain-less Isles pull out win at Barclays
Sans Tavares, Furious Fourth Line Helps to Snap Three-Game Slide
Seemingly on the verge of a fourth consecutive letdown, the New York Islanders, draped in their alternate black-and-white Brooklyn-themed uniforms for the first time during this historic inaugural campaign in our fair borough, got a huge pick-me-up from their fourth line Tuesday night.
Casey Cizikas lit the lamp with just 2:12 remaining in regulation as the Islanders, playing their third straight game without captain John Tavares, eked out a much-needed 2-1 triumph over visiting New Jersey in front of 12,122 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“It’s huge,” Cizikas admitted afterward, relishing his second tally of the season, which he deftly deposited past Devils goalie Cory Schneider after collecting the rebound off a long shot from linemate Matt Martin.
“We weren’t feeling too good after this past weekend,” added Cizikas, referring to New York’s 3-2 shootout loss at New Jersey on Saturday and Sunday’s 2-1 setback in Buffalo. “It is huge for our confidence. We take tremendous pride, we want to be the hardest-working line on the ice.”
Tavares, who is battling the flu but may be back on the ice for Thursday’s game in Montreal, is the key cog in the Islanders’ offense, and arguably the best pure playmaker in the world.
While the Islanders’ first three lines struggled to produce in his absence — New York has had just seven goals in its last four games overall — the trio of Cizikas, Martin and Cal Clutterbuck picked up the slack when it mattered most Tuesday night, ending the team’s 0-1-2 slide.
“We were resilient tonight without our captain,” said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano, who has had to ward off concerns over the past few days that Tavares’ illness was much more significant.
“Overall I thought our goaltender [Jaroslav Halak] made some big saves in the second period and our fourth line gave us great energy tonight. Guys went to the net hard and got rewarded. Our other lines need to feed off that.”
In an edgy contest that saw both teams take physical liberties along the boards, the Islanders (7-3-3, 17 points) got a combined 16 hits from their “Havoc Line”, including a game-high nine from Clutterbuck.
In all, New York recorded an NHL-record 63 hits during the game, though the league has only been tracking this statistic since 2005.
“We just try to work hard and play the game moving forward,” said Clutterbuck. “It sounds cliché, but that’s just the type of players the three of us are.”
Halak made 24 saves in all, and Brock Nelson opened the scoring for the Isles on another put-back at 7:23 of the opening period.
From there, New York grinded away and held off several scoring chances by the Devils, extending its NHL-best penalty killing streak to 29 in a row before Travis Zajac scored on the man advantage just over two minutes into the third period to deadlock the game at 1-1.
The fourth line, noted more for its tough, defensive style than its offensive prowess, has already produced 13 points (six goals, seven assists) this season.
Cizikas’ stunning goal in the late stages Tuesday night spared the Islanders the daunting prospect of entering a 3-on-3, five-minute overtime period without their best player.
“We competed,” said Halak, who improved to 4-1-1 with a 1.66 goals-against average this season. “We worked hard for 60 minutes. That was lacking in previous games. We created some chances and outworked the [other] team. I’m glad we got the two points.”
“It’s nice to grind one of those out,” added Nelson, who picked up his third goal of the year off assists from Anders Lee and Marek Zidlicky. “[The fourth line] brings a lot of energy every night. They chip in offensively. Nice to get one of those tight-checking games to go in our favor.”
The Islanders will be back at the Barclays Center Sunday, when they host the Boston Bruins at 5 p.m.
Isle Have Another: Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano announced Wednesday that he will join Nassau Events Center’s Bruce Ratner and Brett Yormark, as well as other elected officials, at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Renovation of the 43-year-old former home of the Islanders, and construction of its surrounding retail and entertainment center, is expected to create more than 1,035 direct construction jobs, and more than 570 additional indirect and induced jobs in Nassau … Five of Cizikas’ 23 career goals have been game-winners … Dating to last season, the Islanders were 0-9-4 in their previous 13 games, including a 0-2-3 mark this year, in which they’d scored two goals or fewer before Tuesday’s dramatic win. … New York improved to 5-2-2 at Barclays Center. … The Islanders lost all three meetings with Montreal last season, getting outscored by a combined 12-6.
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