The New York Islanders earned their eight-day break Monday with a convincing 7-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in front of a sold out Nassau Coliseum.
Nikolay Kulemin led the way with two goals and an assist, while five other Islanders scored in Monday’s offensive outburst. With the win, the Islanders secured first place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the NHL All-Star break.
“From day one, no one gave us a chance, but that’s why we play the game” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “I’m very pleased up until this point with our hockey club, we’ve done a lot of good things, not only winning hockey games, but how we are winning games.”
The Islanders have relentlessly put pucks on net this season and Monday was no different, as the team put up 40 shots.
“We take a lot of shots every game,” Kulemin said. “It wasn’t just to shoot on this goalie [Flyers rookie Rob Zepp], it’s try to shoot as much as we can every game.”
The Islanders blitzed the Flyers early, taking a 1-0 lead in a flash, as Michael Grabner scored on the team’s first shot, 1:32 into the contest. Grabner took a pass from Kulemin, streaked down the left wing and unleashed a sharp wrister from the left dot, beating Rob Zepp glove side off the connector.
The Islanders third line continued their strong period, combining on the Islanders second goal at 8:06. Grabner’s intended pass to Brock Nelson missed its target, but landed on Johnny Boychuk’s stick at the point. Zepp turned away Boychuk’s slapper, but the rebound skipped to Kulemin, who made no mistake for his first of the night.
“We’ve been creating some chances over the last few games,” Grabner said. “Even at [Friday’s] game at home we didn’t create much, but we played pretty sound defensively. It’s nice when you get some games under your belt with the same linemates.”
Kulemin struck again in the second period, notching his third short-handed goal of the season. Kulemin poked the puck past Matt Read at the Islanders blue line, turned on the jets and skated in one-on-one against Zepp. The Islanders forward teased a backhand, switched to the forehand and bulged the twine, upstairs putting the Islanders up 3-0 at 4:53.
“When you play as hard as he plays, you’re going to get results,” Capuano said of Kulemin. “He’s a guy that away from the puck, plays exceptionally well defensively. We can use him in some crucial situations, not just the penalty kill, but five-on-five.”
The Flyers got one back five minutes later on a power play, as former Islander Mark Streit beat Jaroslav Halak five hole from the point. Halak made a quality save on a Brayden Schenn tip moments before the goal, but he couldn’t squeeze the pads tight enough on Streit’s shot, getting 95% of it before it trickled across the goalline at 9:07.
The Islanders ended Zepp’s night shortly after, as Josh Bailey slid a rebound past the Flyers netminder five seconds after an Isles power play expired. Zepp, a 33-year-old rookie, gave up four goals on 20 shots.
The second period shootout continued, as Michael Del Zotto took advantage of a fortunate bounce off Calvin de Haan’s stick for his third goal of the season. De Haan broke up a cross-crease pass from Jakub Voracek, but the puck deflected off the heel of his stick and right to the trailing Del Zotto, who beat Halak short side.
John Tavares sent the Islanders into the intermission on a high note, burying his team-leading 21st goal of the season past Ray Emery with 7.6 seconds to play. Frans Nielsen blocked a Flyers clearing attempt and fed an unguarded Tavares in front of net, who had the time and space to open up Emery before roofing a backhand.
The Flyers scored 41 seconds into the third period, as Halak fanned on a pass, ultimately giving Claude Giroux an empty net, but the goal was inconsequential, as Nick Leddy restored the three-goal lead five minutes later. Leddy beat Emery with a seeing-eye wrister from the point, as Kyle Okposo set the screen in front of the net to make it 6-3.
The teams traded two goals in the final 2:24 as Chris VandeVelde scored his fifth, before Anders Lee iced the game with an empty netter.
Halak made 25 saves in the win, while Emery stopped 18-of-20, but was saddled with the loss. Post game, the Islanders admitted that there are still some things to work on post break.
“It’s a win, but we have to play better defensively still,” Kulemin said. “We gave up four goals. That’s not the type of game you’re supposed to play.”
Still, the Islanders head into the all-star break in an enviable position atop the Metropolitan Division. They return to action Jan. 27 when they host the New York Rangers.