Make it one for one for the Islanders under new interim coach Doug Weight. They shutout the Stars at Barclays Center 3-0 to win in Weight’s coaching debut. The stars were John Tavares and Thomas Greiss. Somewhat curiously, it was the second consecutive shutout for Greiss, who followed up a 32-save performance by stopping all 23 with the Islanders playing well in front of him.
It’s interesting that they sent off Jack Capuano with a 4-0 win at Boston. A game in which the supporting cast stepped up with Nikolay Kulemin tallying twice along with Jason Chimera scoring a goal and assist. Casey Cizikas also had two assists.
In the 3-0 home victory over a Dallas club that scored seven goals in a wild 7-6 win at the Rangers, it was the Isles’ best players who stepped up. Tavares continued to stay hot scoring twice to give him seven goals in the last four games. The superstar center opened the scoring with a highlight reel goal at 13:37 of the first period. After receiving a lead pass from Anders Lee, Tavares held onto the puck and skated around the Stars’ defense before burying one past Kari Lehtonen. A terrific goal by a terrific player.
As it turned out, that’s all they would need. On a night where the Stars lost their discipline taking nine penalties including a fight between Radek Faksa and Thomas Hickey early in the second, the Islanders power play was unable to make them pay. Lehtonen kept his team in it by making 33 saves. That included stopping all 16 Islander shots in a busy second.
The Isles did a very good job limiting the Stars’ shots keeping them to the outside. If there’s been an area they struggled at under Capuano, it’s been defensively. After the win, Weight talked about how he wants players who are going to compete and have intensity that way he sends them back out for the next shift. Last year, the team was better defensively and protected the house.
Most impressively, they did it without top defensemen Travis Hamonic (week-to-week) and Johnny Boychuk. Weight leaned heavily on steady vet Dennis Seidenberg, who was plus-two with three hits in over 26 minutes of action (27 shifts). Nick Leddy and Calvin de Haan also played over 20 minutes. Adam Pelech filled in admirably getting over 18 minutes while Scott Mayfield was used sparingly. Hickey got over 15 minutes going plus-one with the scrap.
The Islanders didn’t face too much adversity in winning for the third time over four. However, it was still a one goal game with Mayfield off for slashing. In what amounted to a wild sequence, Tavares led a two-on-one rush. But one too many passes sent the Stars in the other direction. But after missing, Kulemin caught the Stars by sending Tavares at the end of his penalty killing shift on a breakaway from center. Even with the fuel tank on low, he was able to come in with enough speed and beat Lehtonen with a forehand five-hole for his team-leading 18th that extended the lead to 2-0 with 3:06 remaining. It was his first career shorthanded goal.
“It was something special from the first goal on,” Weight said. “[Tavares] His work ethic, killing penalties, attention to detail. He’s a great leader.”
De Haan added an empty netter from Greiss with four seconds left for the final margin. The Islanders improved to 18-17-8 with 44 points. They remain last in the Metro Division. But are only six behind the second wildcard Maple Leafs. Weight believes this is a playoff team. But they have to climb over a lot of teams and make up ground.
With 39 games left, there’s plenty of time for the Islanders to do it. Especially with no team really seizing control of the final playoff spot. The Leafs have 50 points with 39 games remaining. The Flyers also have 50 but have played 46 games already. The Hurricanes and Panthers each have 49. The Lightning and Devils are at 47 and the Red Wings have 46 despite playing better hockey lately. Even the Sabres at 43 are only seven out. Whoever can string together some wins can gain in the standings quickly.
It’ll be an interesting race the final three months. The Islanders have a red hot star player finally going. Greiss has been playing extremely well. If they can keep it up, they will suddenly have a shot.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Kari Lehtonen, Stars (35 saves)
2nd Star-Thomas Greiss, NYIslanders (23 saves to become first German NHL goal to post consecutive shutouts)
1st Star-John Tavares, NYIslanders (2 goals-17, 18 including 1st career shorthanded goal, 6 shots, 10 attempts, 14-and-7 on face-offs, +2 in 27 shifts-23:45)