Resurgent Isles finally making their move
Top Rival Rangers, 4-2, to Stretch Points Streak to Five Games
After skating around like the “Walking Dead” for a month and a half, the New York Islanders have suddenly sprung to life.
And not a moment too soon for the Brooklyn-based NHL franchise.
Jaroslav Halak stopped 36 shots and the resurgent Islanders got goals from four different skaters, including previously unproductive free-agent pickups Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera, en route to Tuesday night’s 4-2 victory over the East River rival New York Rangers in front of 15,795 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“We have to get going,” noted Chimera, who gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead with his fourth goal of the year at 17:24 of the opening stanza.
“We’ve dug ourselves a little bit of a hole and now we’re trying to claw back. We’ve been playing some good hockey lately,” he added. “Just have to keep rolling.”
The Isles, who lost veteran forwards Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin via unrestricted free agency this past summer, slumbered through their first 20 games, going 6-10-4 to find themselves buried at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Thanks to additional goals from team captain John Tavares and last-minute call up Scott Mayfield, subbing for veteran blueliner Johnny Boychuk (flu), New York improved to 4-0-1 in its last five contests to climb within six points of the conference’s final wild-card spot.
It also completed the long hike back to .500 on the season at 10-10-5, a record the Isles hope to improve upon Thursday night here at Barclays against St. Louis.
“We’re playing a lot better hockey and we know we can still be a lot better, so I think that’s really the mindset,” Tavares said after lighting the lamp on the power play at 11:13 of the third period to cap the scoring.
“[A] lot of games here before Christmas. … We know we can still do a lot of good things [until] then. We’re just starting the second quarter of the season.”
There is still a long way to go if the Isles want to make Season Two here in Brooklyn as successful as the inaugural campaign, during which the franchise won its first playoff series since 1993, but wins over the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers, the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the always-in-contention Washington Capitals is a fine way to start this upward trend.
“No secret if you want to make the playoffs, be a good team, you [have to] beat some of the top teams in the league and certainly being able to do that has been big for us,” Tavares noted.
“Even though there still needs to be a lot of improvement, I think we all recognize there’s some good building blocks going,” he added.
Ladd, who was inked to an eyebrow-raising seven-year, $38.5 million contract by general manager Garth Snow this past summer, scored what proved to be the game winner just over two minutes into the second period, re-establishing a two-goal cushion for the Isles at 3-1.
His third goal of the season, off a nice feed from Shane Prince, derailed any hopes of a Blueshirt comeback, especially with Halak standing tall in net throughout the contest.
“[Halak] was dialed in tonight and for your penalty kill to go good, he has to be your best guy,” head coach Jack Capuano said after the Isles thwarted all six Ranger power plays. “He definitely was in the first period tonight.”
“It was a big win,” added Tavares, who has registered either a goal or an assist in four of the five games during the Isles’ recent surge. “We overcame a few things today. The penalty kill did a heck of a job and Jaro [also did], obviously. [It was] nice for our power play to step up when we had one of our chances there and we just got contributions from everybody.”
A little more than a week ago, Islander fans were calling for Capuano’s job and hoping Snow would deal Halak and install backup Thomas Greiss as the team’s primary goalie.
But to their credit, the Isles remained patient with a squad that underwent some drastic changes in the offseason, and now finds itself on the precipice of serious contention for its third consecutive postseason berth.
Isle Have Another: The Islanders have killed off 19 consecutive power-play opportunities over their last seven games, something veteran defenseman Travis Hamonic takes great pride in, especially with the team trying to make a climb up the standings. “Our kill was good, it’s been a strong point of the last couple of weeks,” Hamonic said. “Guys are sacrificing, it’s not easy to block shots, it’s not easy to be in those trenches. When you get a team that gets a lot of power plays, you have to be ready, and we were.” … After hosting the Blues Thursday night, the Isles will travel to Columbus on Saturday evening before returning to Barclays to take on Washington (next Tuesday) and Chicago (next Thursday).
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