The NHL's worst defensive team shut down its weakest offensive team Saturday night.
Anders Nilsson made 33 saves to lead the New York Islanders to a 4-1 victory against the Buffalo Sabres at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome and Cal Clutterbuck scored for the Islanders, who came into the game having allowed a League-high 228 non-shootout goals. Lubomir Visnovsky had three assists.
Nilsson said his defensemen did a good job of keeping the Sabres to the outside for most of the night.
"They helped me out a lot," the rookie goaltender said. "They cleared out the guys in front of me so I saw pretty much every shot."
It was the 10th victory at the Coliseum for the Islanders, and their first in regulation since beating the Dallas Stars 7-3 on Jan. 6. New York's 10-17-8 home record is the worst in the NHL.
Tyler Ennis scored a power-play goal for Buffalo early in the third period, but the Islanders killed off five other penalties and did not allow an even-strength goal.
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan wasn't happy with his team's inability to get to the net, especially on the power play.
"Ninety-nine percent of the teams in this League jam the net, try to create some screens and fight for rebounds," he said. "For whatever reason, we peel away."
The loss was the fifth in a row for the Sabres, who've scored five goals during that span. Jhonas Enroth made 34 saves for Buffalo, which is last in the NHL with 126 non-shootout goals, 32 fewer than anyone else. The Sabres are a League-worst 7-21-3 on the road.
The Islanders wasted little time taking the lead. Nielsen scored his career-best 22nd goal 3:31 into the game when he took a pass from Anders Lee and with Okposo crashing the net, fired a wide-angled slap shot from the left circle that hit Enroth and found its way into the net.
New York killed off a pair of Buffalo power plays, then capitalized on its first chance with the extra man. Okposo found some room between the hash marks, took a right-circle feed from Brock Nelson and zipped a quick low shot past Enroth at 17:24 for his team-high 27th goal of the season. He had four goals in 48 games last season.
Okposo also had the second assist on Nielsen's goal, and his career-best 69 points are fourth in the NHL scoring race.
"A couple years ago, you guys weren't talking about him, the fans were down on him," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of Okposo, the seventh player taken in the 2006 NHL Draft. "Now they chant, 'USA! USA!'"
Islanders center Casey Cizikas missed a chance to make it a three-goal game three minutes into the second period when he took a passout from Johan Sundstrom but fired high and wide from 10 feet in front of Enroth.
That was one of the few scoring chances for either team in the period. Nilsson made his best save an instant before the buzzer when he stopped Drew Stafford's power-play rocket from the high slot with his mask, preserving New York's 2-0 lead.
Buffalo got on the board 55 seconds into the third period when Ennis took a pass at the right post, spun and banked a power-play shot into the net off Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic for his 18th goal of the season. But New York, which has lost a League-leading 12 games when leading by two goals, got that one back 40 seconds later when Strome knocked in his own rebound for his fourth of the season after Enroth stopped his breakaway.
"Even when they got that power-play goal to start the third period – and you guys thought 'Here we go again' – we battled back," Capuano said. "We were resilient. It was a good bench here tonight. The guys were positive and willing to work."
Enroth was left to fend for himself after four Sabres were caught up ice, leaving Strome free to take a pass from Matt Martin.
"The big killer was we get the first goal to make it 2-1, and the next shift we make another not-very-smart play," Nolan said.
Nolan pulled Enroth for an extra attacker with three minutes remaining, but Clutterbuck pitched a backhander from center ice into the empty net with 2:13 remaining.
"It was solid work from the whole team," Nielsen said. "I liked our game without the puck. We were solid in front of Anders; he took care of the first shot and we cleaned up after that."
The Islanders announced before the game that they signed defenseman Adam Pelech to a three-year, entry-level contract. A third-round pick (No. 65) at the 2012 NHL Draft, Pelech has nine goals, 45 assists and a plus-45 rating in 59 games this season for the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League.
Material from team media was used in this report.
|Frans Nielsen (22) ASST: Anders Lee (4), Kyle Okposo (42)|
1 - 0 NYI
|PPG - Kyle Okposo (27) ASST: Brock Nelson (12), Lubomir Visnovsky (6)|
2 - 0 NYI
|PPG - Tyler Ennis (18) ASST: Drew Stafford (16), Christian Ehrhoff (24)|
2 - 1 NYI
|Ryan Strome (4) ASST: Matt Martin (5), Lubomir Visnovsky (7)|
3 - 1 NYI
|EN - Cal Clutterbuck (9) ASST: Lubomir Visnovsky (8), Thomas Hickey (15)|
4 - 1 NYI
|Power Play %||13.4%||18.7%|
|% on Road||12.2%||17.0%|
|% at Home||14.5%||20.3%|
|Matt Carkner Hooking against Matt D'Agostini|
|Matt Carkner Fighting (maj) against John Scott|
|John Scott Fighting (maj) against Matt Carkner|
|Thomas Hickey Hi-sticking against Matt D'Agostini|
|Henrik Tallinder Holding against Anders Lee|
|Calvin de Haan Tripping against Ville Leino|
|Mike Weber Interference against Brock Nelson|
|Colin McDonald Cross checking against Henrik Tallinder|
|Matt Martin Cross checking against Jamie McBain|
|Henrik Tallinder Roughing against Colin McDonald|
|Calvin de Haan Hi-sticking against Cory Conacher|
|Cal Clutterbuck Tripping against Christian Ehrhoff|
|John Scott Cross checking against Johan Sundstrom|