A 1-0 score was fitting of the gritty, competitive battle that took place between the top two teams in the East Division as the New York Islanders shut out the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum. With the win, the Islanders and Capitals are now tied each with 54 points atop the East Division standings.
Brock Nelson scored the game-winning goal late in the third period and in doing so, scored his team-high 14th goal of the season. Semyon Varlamov secured the much-deserved shutout as he made 29 saves. Vitek Vanecek was solid for the Capitals as he made 38 saves on 39 shots, but his team came up short.
"I liked how we managed the puck, I liked the way we controlled it in the offensive zone, I liked the way we defended," Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz said of the win. "Washington doesn't need a lot of opportunities to capitalize. They've got some pretty dangerous shooters. They don't need a lot of opportunities. I think we managed it pretty good. I didn't think we had a lot of opportunities, but some that they did have were pretty dangerous and [Varlamov] came up big. I thought their goaltender played extremely well. We had lots of chances to pull away, but we didn't. It was a hell of a hockey game between two good teams."
Here are five takeaways from the Islanders 1-0 win over Washington:
Compared to the last meeting on April 1,between the two heavyweight clubs - which was chaotic from the opening minute and until the final whistle resulting in an 8-4 final Islander win - Tuesday night's tilt featured much tighter play. It also marked the Islanders second win of their regular season series (2-3-0) against the Caps.
"It was a great hockey game," Cal Clutterbuck said. "It was two really good teams playing a hard game. We just had to trust that if we continued going the way we were going we were going to be able to break through."
The first 20 minutes of play were relatively uneventful as both teams entered the first intermission with at 0-0. The Islanders outshot the Caps 12-7 in the period and struck iron twice, including once on their first power play of the game at 6:02, as Washington forward Tom Wilson tripped up Jordan Eberle.
Washington picked up momentum at the end of the frame and ended the period 16 seconds into their first power play as the night as Mathew Barzal was assessed with interference.
While both teams were scoreless yet again in the second period, the Islanders were indebted to their netminder for his solid performance in what was largely a period dominated by Washington. The Islanders started the period with a strong kill of 1:44 carried over from Barzal's first-period penalty. The Caps' chances seemed to get better as the period went on - including on their second unsuccessful power play of the night midway through the period - but Varlamov came up with some timely saves.
While Washington controlled the period and outshot the Islanders 12-7, the Blue and Orange generated some promising looks of their own. Six minutes into the period, Beauvillier was sprung for a breakaway after flanking down the left wall, but his shot on the fly was denied by Vanecek. The Islanders best chance of the period came in the final two minutes as Eberle shimmied into the low slot and attempted to roof his signature backhander, but his shot deflected off the crossbar.
While the middle frame wasn't the Islanders' best performance, they got the job done in the third period. After their early power play was unsuccessful - courtesy of Oliver Wahlstrom's sleek cut to the net to draw a slashing penalty on Carl Hagelin - the Islanders picked up their pace. The group was much more assertive and active in entering the Caps zone and creating meaningful possessions.
"We just wanted to stick with it, elevate our game and pick up the pace a little more in the third," Nelson said. "I thought we did that. We had quite a few good looks. We weren't able to capitalize, but we found a way going into the third to win a hockey game, which is huge."
Their patience finally broke.
Nelson delivered the Islanders the icebreaker 13:05. The play was set up by Anthony Beauvillier's speedy entry into the zone, in which he passed the puck to himself. After Beauvillier lost possession, Nelson forechecked to gain the puck back and out to his blueline. While Caps netminder Vanecek made the initial stop on Ryan Pulock's blast from the point, Nelson cleaned up the rebound to give his team a 1-0 lead.
With an assist on the goal, Josh Bailey recorded his 500th career point, the 11th player in franchise history to accomplish the feat.
Despite Washington's desperate push following Nelson's goal, the Islanders outlasted Washington and outshot them 20-10 in the final frame.
VARLAMOV'S STANDS TALL IN SHUTOUT
The Islanders netminder returned to the pipes after Ilya Sorokin played in Saturday's 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia.
Varlamov was a major factor in keeping the Capitals off the board through the first 40 minutes of the game. Varlamov made governing saves in the second frame as Washington mounted a push with some lethal chances, including two strong efforts on the power play.
The veteran goalie warranted 'Var-ly' chants that rang throughout the Coliseum after making a stop on Washington's forward Daniel Sprong. Varlamov also stopped back-to-back shots from his fellow countryman in Alexander Ovechkin in the final two minutes of play.
The Caps continued the pressure and tested Varlamov with a Grade A chance in the first minute of the third period, but the Islanders netminder denied Hagelin's wrist shot off a three-on-two rush.
With the shutout, the Islanders goaltender improved his record to 16-7-3. With his fourth shutout of the season, Varlamov has already doubled his shutouts from last season (2).
Varlamov's shutout was the 31st of his career and first regular-season clean sheet vs his former club.
PERFECT PENALTY KILL
For the first time in the regular season series against Washington, the Islanders penalty kill was perfect (2-for-2) and kept the Caps' lethal eight ranked (24.0%) power play off the board.
"It's real huge that you get that, Washington can make you look pretty ordinary with that power play that they have," Trotz said. "They're so dangerous and it's a weapon for their game. They thrive on it. They can change the game on it. I thought we did a great job in that situation. And your best penalty killer is your goaltender. When we needed a save we got it."
The Islanders penalty kill has now killed off five-straight penalties.
For the first time since March 27, Bellows returned to the lineup. The 22-year-old winger drew the lineup in place of Ross Johnston. Johnston had played the last two games, but left after just two shifts in the first period against Philadelphia on Saturday night following a fight with Samuel Morin.
Bellows skated alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and fellow rookie Oliver Wahlstrom, where they regularly were tasked going head-to-head against the Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie line. He logged 10:16, fired off one shot, threw three shots and had one block.
UNDEFEATED REVERSE RETRO
Tuesday night marked the Islanders final time that the team would don their Reverse Retro threads. Through three appearances the Islanders were undefeated in the vintage threads that were inspired by the sweaters the team wore from 1998-07.
The Islanders continue their homestand as they open up a back-to-back set starting on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.