Halak stopped 34 shots to extend his winning streak to nine games and lead the Islanders to a 3-1 victory against the New Jersey Devils at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.
The Islanders' No. 1 goaltender lost his first decision of the month on Nov. 1 but is 9-0-0 since, allowing 11 goals. Damien Brunner's first-period deflection was the only shot to beat him, and he was flawless in the third, when the Devils outshot New York 16-2.
"Goaltending is like pitching or quarterbacking; it’s the backbone of your team," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said after New York completed November with an 11-3-0 record, its best since the 1980-81 team went 12-1-2 on its way to the second of four consecutive Stanley Cups.
The Islanders, who played without defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Lubomir Visnovsky because of injuries, will start December even with the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Metropolitan Division after a month that included two five-game winning streaks and a bounce-back effort Saturday, one day after a 5-2 loss at the Washington Capitals.
New York (17-7-0), which also got goals from Nikolay Kulemin and Cal Clutterbuck, finished November with an 11-3-0 record. The Islanders are 9-2-0 at Nassau Coliseum, where they went 13-18-9 last season.
"We'll build off it and get better," Islanders captain John Tavares said of the impressive month. "It's obviously been good to get the results we wanted. This puts us in good position, but there's a long way to go. We want to do what the '80-81 team did in June."
Devils goaltender Cory Schneider, who started for the 23rd time in New Jersey's 24 games this season, made 25 saves.
"I thought we had a gutsy effort," said Devils coach Peter DeBoer, whose team was missing two of its top forwards, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac, because of injuries. "If we bring that game to the rink, we'll win more that we'll lose."
New York had to kill 55 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play for the Devils after Brock Nelson was called for holding the stick with 3:10 remaining and Calvin de Haan was sent off for hooking 1:06 later. New Jersey managed one shot during the two-man advantage. Casey Cizikas hit the empty net with 4.3 seconds left.
"The PK came up big, and Jaro is playing great," Tavares said. "You can see in practice how sharp he is, how hard he works. It's a credit to him, the way he's battled for us this season. It's been big for us."
Capuano said the sellout crowd of 16,170 made a difference for a team playing its sixth game in nine nights. The building was rocking with chants of "Defense" and "Jaro" as time ran down in the third period.
"Energy," Capuano said when asked what the fans brought. "We talked about it before the game. Especially when you play six [games] in nine [nights], we needed to feed off that energy. They got behind us and played a big part in it."
The Devils, like the Islanders, were playing the second of back-to-back games. New Jersey couldn't hold a 4-1 lead against the Detroit Red Wings at Prudential Center and lost 5-4 in a shootout.
"It was a good response game after the way last night ended, other than the result," DeBoer said.
The Islanders had the better of the chances in the first 12 minutes before taking the lead at 12:40. Kyle Okposo's slap shot from inside the right circle leaked through Schneider's pads and sat in front of the goal line. Kulemin tapped it into the empty net for his fifth goal of the season and a 1-0 lead.
New Jersey got even less than two minutes later. Brunner, one of two lineup additions taking the place of Henrique and Zajac, got his stick on defenseman Adam Larsson's slap shot from the right point and deflected it past Halak at 14:27 for his second goal of the season.
Clutterbuck put the Islanders ahead to stay 3:32 into the second period. Cizikas won a right-circle faceoff back to de Haan. The second-year defenseman stepped around Jaromir Jagr's attempted check and fired a straightaway 50-foot slap shot through traffic that hit Clutterbuck and deflected past Schneider for his third goal of the season.
The remainder of the period belonged to the goaltenders. Schneider kept the deficit at one goal midway through the period with a flurry of saves, and Halak stepped up in the later stages by denying Jagr on an open shot during a power play, then stopping Steve Bernier from the right circle after a turnover and again on a breakaway after he chased down a clearing pass.
"The thing I liked about our group tonight was I thought guys didn't make any excuses for one another," Devils forward Mike Cammalleri said. "Guys just picked themselves up and left it all out there."
New Jersey owned the third period but couldn't get another puck past Halak, who got plenty of help from his teammates. The Islanders blocked 26 shots, 17 in the third period when the Devils attempted 40 shots to eight for New York.
"Give the Devils credit; they came hard," Tavares said. "They did some good things, got some pucks to the net. We just stayed with it. We were calm and understood [that we had to] just stick to our game."