Playing in front of fans for the first time in nearly a year, the New York Islanders picked up two points on Tuesday night, beating the New Jersey Devils 2-1 at Prudential Center.
Oliver Wahlstrom and Anders Lee jumpstarted a sleepy 0-0 deadlock in the third period with a pair of goals, while Semyon Varlamov, who was 13.2 seconds away from a shutout, stopped 28-of-29 in the win.
With the victory, the Islanders extended their point streak to five games (4-0-1), drawing even with the Washington Capitals for first place in the East Division. (The Capitals have played one fewer game and hold the tiebreaker.)
The Islanders rookie extended his point streak to five games, snapping home the game's first goal in the third period on Tuesday night.
Wahlstrom, who now has six points (3G, 3A) on his five-game run, showcased his shot yet again, picking a corner on Aaron Dell with a wrister from the top of the circles. The goal was Wahlstrom's fourth of the season and third in his last four games.
"I'm gaining confidence from everybody and learning," Wahlstrom said. "Coaches say just keep it simple, play the right way and hopefully pucks go in. They're starting to go in, so just have to keep going."
Wahlstrom said he's falling in love with the details of the game, taking pride in his two-way play and the moments that don't wind up on the highlight reel. Head Coach Barry Trotz, who said that's music to a coach's ears, said Wahlstrom has come a long way over the past two years and has praised the 20-year-old's dedication to his fitness and details since training camp.
"The best thing you can do is play on both sides of the puck and that's how you earn ice time," Trotz said. "He's finding that being on the right side of pucks and being in the right position, he's getting more offense out of it. Instead of waiting for the puck to come to him, he's part of the solution in getting it back so you can have it more."
"His participation in the game as a complete hockey player has come miles from where it was in two years," Trotz said.
With an assist, JG Pageau picked up his 100th-career helper and with a secondary assist, Nick Leddy extended his assist streak to five games (6A).
Armed with a 1-0 lead on a night where offense was hard to come by, Anders Lee put some real distance between the Islanders and Devils when he made it 2-0 at 7:51 of the third.
Lee did the dirty work around his office, taking a few whacks at a puck at the side of the net, eventually stuffing a shot through the Devils' netminder.
The goal was Lee's team-leading 10th of the season, putting the Islanders captain halfway to his goal output from last season.
"I'm seeing the same player that I saw in the bubble," Trotz said when asked about Lee. "Very determined. I think how he changed a little bit of his training has helped. I think his line is maturing. I think Barzal continues to mature his overall game and then, I think [Eberle] is reminding his game. [Lee] has probably been our most consistent guy all year."
ISLANDERS STAY PATIENT DURING STAGNANT START:
Neither team generated much in the first two periods, in what Lee called a bit of a stagnant start.
The Islanders outshot the Devils 8-4 in the opening 20, but that didn't include the Islanders' best chance of the period, as Ryan Pulock nearly put a crossbar into an early retirement, stepping into a slap shot inside the circles.
The Devils turned up the heat in the second period, outshooting the Islanders 16-5 in the period - minus an Andreas Johnsson wrister off the connector - though the skewed shot total was partially aided by three New Jersey power plays. The Islanders were held without a shot on goal from the 2:14 to the 12:05 mark of the middle frame and were outshot 10-0 during that span.
"Tonight was one of those games where there wasn't a lot going on," Lee said. "Second period there were a lot of penalties and great job by our killers, but that doesn't create a lot of flow… It felt a little stagnant at times. Tonight, we really just stuck with and tried to get to our game in the third. Our game gives us a chance to put a couple in."
Wahlstrom's goal, which came 1:10 into the period, seemingly ignited the Islanders, who found a way to tilt the ice and capitalize again on Lee's goal shortly after. Trotz, who said he could see the third game in four nights wear on the Islanders, liked his team's poise, though they lost it a little bit by allowing Miles Wood's goal with 13.2 seconds to play.
"We managed the game," Trotz said. "We didn't get to our game all game, but we managed it pretty well."
The Islanders are still a few weeks away from playing in front of their home fans, but Tuesday's game marked their first contest in front of fans since March 10, 2020 in Vancouver.
Blue and orange was well-represented in New Jersey, as pockets of Islanders fans dotted the available seating areas of Prudential Center, which was open to 10% capacity, which translated to 1,800 fans. There were Yes! Yes! Yes! chants, there were "Let's Go Islanders!" ohhhs, ahhhs and de-fense to bring it home.
In short, there was energy, which is exactly what Trotz and the Islanders was hoping for pregame and a refreshing change.
"You could tell right from warmups there was definitely a little bit more energy in the building," Andy Greene said. "It's amazing after playing 43 games without fans how much 1800 makes a difference and there's a lot of energy."
CLUTTERBUCK RETURNS, KOMAROV OUT:
Cal Clutterbuck returned to the lineup on Tuesday night after missing two games with an undisclosed injury. The Islanders forward skated in his usual spot alongside Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas, with Leo Komarov coming out of the lineup. Clutterbuck played 14:42 TOI with a shot, a block and a penalty.
The Islanders return home on Thursday for the first of three straight against the Buffalo Sabres at Nassau Coliseum. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.