If all goes well for the Islanders, and it has been lately, it will just be business as usual against the Ducks on Sunday afternoon at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum after ascending to first place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Islanders (28-15-4), playing a much more methodical, defensively-oriented game than seasons past as they seek their first playoff berth since 2016, have won four straight and 14 of 17 after Friday night’s emotional 2-0 win at Washington in coach Barry Trotz’s first return since leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup.
“I think the good thing about the way we’re winning games is there’s a formula and you just play the way that you play and you give yourselves a chance to win,” said right wing Cal Clutterbuck, who scored one of the two third-period goals against the Capitals. “I think we’ve got a very business-like approach to that right now and the coaching staff does a good job of making sure we just stick with it.”
The Islanders, who did not practice on Saturday with two games left in a stretch of nine in 15 days leading into the All-Star break and then their bye week, are in first place past the season’s halfway mark for just the second time since 1990-91.
“It’s fleeting,” Trotz said. “It’s a day-to-day process to keep growing as a team. I don’t know where we’re going to end up. Right now, we’ve had a good stretch.”
The Islanders have allowed an NHL-low 119 goals against, including three shootout deciding goals. At the same point last season, the Islanders had allowed a league-worst 173 on their way to giving up 293, the most in the NHL since 2007.
The Ducks (21-19-9) beat the Devils, 3-2, on Saturday afternoon after snapping a 12-game winless streak (0-8-4) in Thursday night’s 3-0 victory at Minnesota.
Losing streaks, of course, happen. But the Islanders enduring such a precipitous slide seems unfathomable right now given their strong defensive play, goaltending and Trotz’s trust to roll his four lines without worrying too much about matching up against the opponent’s best skaters.
Goalie Thomas Greiss made 19 saves for his 10th career shutout on Friday and Robin Lehner, who has won 10 of his last 11 decisions, entered Saturday leading the league with a 2.11 goals-against average and second with a .928 save percentage.
“We’ve got a foundation that allows us to be in games and win games and jump on our moments,” Clutterbuck said. “It starts with your goalies and your defense and it starts with your forwards playing defense. It’s the biggest cliché. But it works.”