Islanders return to basics to break slump
Trademark defensive style keys New York to 2-0 win over Columbus
The Islanders have gone from the biggest defensive sieve in the NHL to the stingiest squad on the 32-team circuit within the span of a calendar year.
And head coach Barry Trotz knows his playoff-hopeful unit will have to continue its penchant for blocking shots and limiting its opponents’ activity in the offensive zone if it hopes to return to the postseason for the first time in three seasons.
“We played Islander hockey for a little bit,” Trotz said with a smirk after watching the Islanders complete a big 2-0 blanking of visiting Columbus Monday night in front of 11,827 fans at NYCB Live in Uniondale, New York.
“More than anything, we raised our battle level, and that’s where it starts.”
The Isles, who lead the NHL in goals-against average after yielding the most goals and shots against a season ago, had surrendered 11 tallies over their previous three contests before buckling down against the Blue Jackets.
Thomas Greiss, serving as primary goaltender while Robin Lehner continues his comeback from an upper-body injury (concussion), stopped all 31 shots he faced for his fifth shutout of the campaign and second against Columbus this year.
Defenseman Ryan Pulock’s goal at 6:11 of the opening period stood as the game’s only score until team captain Anders Lee put the Blue Jackets away with his team-leading 24th tally with into an empty net with 1:30 remaining in regulation.
“I think that’s what we needed to get out of the little rut we were in,” said Isles forward Cal Clutterbuck after returning to action following a three-game absence due to injury.
“We just needed someone coming in who is hungry and ready to play and who forces us to elevate our level. I think we elevated our level.”
The win also elevated the Isles back within two points of defending Stanley Cup champion Washington for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division standings, and moved New York eight points clear of Columbus, which is currently clinging to the final playoff spot in the tightly packed Eastern Conference.
“It seems like those two points are always worth more than two,” Lee noted as the Isles readied for Thursday night’s clash with playoff-hopeful Montreal at the renovated Nassau Coliseum.
“This was a big one tonight. Looking forward to our next one.”