The Islanders came out on the wrong end of a one-goal game, falling 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
Frans Nielsen tied the score at 10:31 of the third period, but Travis Zajac scored the eventual winner two and a half minutes later, as the Islanders dropped their last home game of 2013.
“It was a typical Islanders-Devils game,” head coach Jack Capuano said. “They got the shot and the bounce at the end.”
The game was tightly checked, as the Devils blocked 20 Islanders attempts and cleared rebounds before the Islanders could get second and third opportunities.
“That’s how they play,” Kyle Okposo said. “They play a structured game and they are good defensively. You just have to wait for your opportunities and I thought we did a good job of that in the third.”
The Islanders broke through the Devils defense late in the game, as Nielsen took a feed from a falling Kyle Okposo and snapped it high, glove side on Cory Schneider. Thomas Vanek started the play by blocking a Devils clearing attempt around the boards and picked up the secondary assist. Nielsen and Okposo extended their point streaks to five games, while Vanek extended his streak to four games.
“We were aggressive and finally got the goal,” Nielsen said. “Once we got the goal we sat back again. We just have to keep going. It’s a tough loss.”
The game-winner came 2:32 after Nielsen’s tying effort, as Marek Zidlicky’s one-timer deflected high off Zajac’s body and past Evgeni Nabokov.
The Devils had opened the scoring 11:37 into the first on Adam Henrique’s eighth goal of the season. A trailing Henrique took advantage of an open lane to the net and found himself one-on-one with Evgeni Nabokov, backhanding a feed up high on the Isles goaltender.
Nabokov finished the game with 23 saves, while Schneider stopped 30-of-31 for the win.
The Islanders played without John Tavares for the first time in 247 games, as the captain sat out Saturday’s action with a lower-body injury. Tavares’ 246-game ironman streak was the fifth-longest in Islanders history and was the equivalent of three full 82-game seasons. He is considered day-to-day and Capuano did not update his condition after the game. Brock Nelson filled in on the top line and first power-play unit.
“It’s tough to replace Johnny,” Vanek said. “[Nelson’s] not out there to replace him. He is his own player and I thought he did well. He created some chances early on, but Schneider played well.”
The Islanders close out 2013 on the road, as they play the Minnesota Wild Sunday night and head to Boston for a New Year’s Eve date with the Bruins. Puck drop from Minnesota is at 8 p.m. eastern time.
NOTES: Travis Hamonic led the Islanders with 25:04 TOI and had a team-high six shots and 11 attempts… Frans Nielsen won 10-of-11 faceoffs (90%)… Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin each had a team-high six hits.